A devastating locust plague has hit East Africa, with swarms of insects covering an area the size of Moscow. In desperation towards this pest, farmers and police in countries like Kenya and Ethiopia are using every tool available, ranging from pesticides to flamethrowers and even machine guns. Their desperation is real and justified: with large amounts of crops eaten by the hungry insect, the entire region could see a life-threatening food security disaster, writes Bill Wirtz.
The invention of pesticides has solved this problem in practically every other region of the world, and officials should be keen to look to technology, not flamethrowers to deal with this.
These types of pests have previously hit other areas of the world.
In 2015, such a scourge reached Russia, causing the destruction of 10% of its crops after a monstrous attack by thousands of locusts. Standing by their fields, farmers were ruined and desperate. Their losses were enormous. Later, consumers faced rising prices, hitting low-income households the hardest.
Through pesticides, however, modern chemistry has given us the tools to defend ourselves against plagues on our fields and in our cities. Instead of losing a large part of our yields of crops, these products have guaranteed us greater food security. That should be championed.
But in today's mantra, pesticides are considered undesirable. It goes without saying that a pesticide requires professional and precise use, and certainly not all farmers have been equally rigorous. The general demonisation of all pesticide use has thus failed to deliver an intelligent or even environmentally friendly policy.
Abandoning the use of pesticides completely has ruinous effects.
Over in the Netherlands, the Pest Advice and Knowledge Centre warns in major newspapers that new rat infestations are imminent as the country prepares to restrict the use of rat poison from 2023 onwards. It has already been banned in outdoor areas, but now indoor use will also be banned, as RTL Nieuws reports.
The rat invasion in Paris tells a similar story. In January 2018, the government launched a 1.7 million euro anti-rat campaign to reduce the number of disease-ridden rodents. A total of 4,950 anti-rat operations took place between January 2018 and July 2018 compared to 1,700 the previous year. Not only have these efforts failed, they have also fallen short of appeasing those who desire no human effect on the environment around us. An online petition denouncing the "rat genocide" and calling for an end to the exterminations was widely circulated. It collected 26,000 signatures.
But we cannot allow a rat infestation. If we strive for healthy cities, we cannot have our homes and streets "shared" with rats. Otherwise the consequences of our inaction will lead to considerable health problems. The same applies to other species.
A study by researchers in Biology Letters, including French researcher Céline Bellard PhD, showed in 2016 that alien or invasive species are the “second most common threat” associated with the extinction of animals and wildlife since AD 1500. And for at least three of the five different animal species examined, these invasive species are the number one killer.
This is a significant problem in the European Union. The EU suffers €12 billion worth of damage each year due to the effects of these plagues on human health, damaged infrastructure and agricultural losses.
According to a report from 2015, 354 species are at significant risk, including 229 animals, 124 plants and 1 fungus. Invasive species include Spanish slugs, the bacterium xylella fastidiosa, and the Asian long-horned beetle. The traditional reader will have no direct concept of what they look like, and since there are no domestic equivalents, there will probably be no petition by activists either.
Farmers in Africa should not be scared into giving up all pesticides, as controlled use is essential for a productive agricultural system and a viable ecosystem.
Education is therefore key. Prudence about pesticides cannot and must never become an ideological obsession. Controlled, scientifically based use of pesticides remains an absolute necessity for our farmers and cities. If we fail to understand this crucial fact, we will become our own pest.
Bill Wirtz is a senior policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center.
Humanitarian aid: €24.5 million in Southern Africa and Indian Ocean region
The EU has announced new funding of €24.5 million in humanitarian aid for the Southern Africa and Indian Ocean region. EU humanitarian aid to the region seeks to provide a response to the humanitarian consequences of the conflict in northern Mozambique, where €7.86m of EU funding will be directed. Furthermore, EU aid will support measures against the socio-economic crisis in Zimbabwe, to address food insecurity, and to support COVID-19 preparedness and response. In Madagascar, the EU will provide assistance to address the severe food and nutrition crisis. A further €6m will be dedicated to helping children across the whole region gain access to education. Another €8m will be provided to improve the region's disaster preparedness.
Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič said: “The Southern Africa and Indian Ocean region is highly vulnerable to various natural hazards, including cyclones, droughts and epidemics. In some countries of the region, this is exacerbated by a challenging political and socio-economic environment, while the overall situation is aggravated further due to the coronavirus pandemic. EU assistance seeks to alleviate the humanitarian consequences on the most vulnerable populations, and improve disaster preparedness in the region.”
The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated an already difficult situation in Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean region. The region faces natural hazards, including recurring droughts and cyclones, on top of economic and political challenges. Disasters represent a major source of risk for the most vulnerable populations and can undermine development gains. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many poor households are having difficulty in meeting food and non-food needs because of lockdowns and other coronavirus-related restrictive measures.
Since 2014, the EU has mobilized over €237 million in assistance to the region, paying particular attention to disaster preparedness. The EU provides aid in the form of emergency financial transfers to vulnerable people affected by disasters and is also helping address food and nutrition needs in affected areas. With the security situation deteriorating in northern Mozambique's Cabo Delgado province, the EU is supporting vulnerable displaced and affected people with shelter, food, protection and access to healthcare.
ECR Group endorses EU-Africa partnership
The ECR Group in the European Parliament believes that strengthening the bonds and economic co-operation between the European Union and Africa is of the utmost importance and to the benefit of both sides. Helping Africa in their development could win the EU a gigantic, new trading partner and could reduce the migration pressure anticipated for the future. Last, but no less important, are international security concerns. In pursuit of global security, the EU should act to prevent Africa from becoming a forecourt of Russia or China.
In the debate ahead of today’s adoption of Parliament’s own initiative report on a new EU-Africa Strategy, ECR Foreign Affairs Coordinator Anna Fotyga, who had drafted the opinion of the Foreign Affairs Committee, pushed for moving beyond the donor-beneficiary relationship by highlighting the impact of the growing presence of China and Russia on the continent.
Anna Fotyga said: “We must remain strategically engaged, conducting dialogue with the people of Africa.
“The European Parliament rightly calls on the EU to develop a strategic and long-term response to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. The EU's involvement in Africa is much more valuable and constructive than any actions of our rivals – China and Russia, who mostly try to increase their spheres of influence.”
ECR Shadow Rapporteur Beata Kempa said: “Europe today shows that it is a real ally of Africa. I believe this is the right time to attempt to evaluate our engagement in this region, and to discuss the directions and possibilities for change.
“The European Union should help Africa to develop socially, to improve digitally, to foster investment, economic growth and sustainable development, as well as to redistribute its wealth more fairly.
“It is time to invest in Africa’s youth, its human capital, to allow young Africans to pursue their dreams where they were born.”
Kempa also stressed that the largest challenge is Africa’s health sector, that is in need of support. According to Kempa, this challenge should be tackled in cooperation with international institutions. In this context, she referred to the COVAX vaccine distribution program.
The Report has been adopted with 460 votes in favour, 64 against and 163 abstentions.
Towards a renewed partnership between Africa and the EU
Africa and the EU must establish a new partnership as equals, focusing on people's needs and adjusting to the needs of a post-COVID world. African and European societies face common issues and shared challenges, such as the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, creating the need for closer and more equitable collaboration.
On 25 March, MEPs will vote on Parliament’s proposals for a new EU-Africa strategy laying the foundation for a partnership that reflects the interests of both sides and gives African countries the means to achieve sustainable development.
Read more on EU-Africa relations.
Human development at the heart of future strategy
Africa is home to the youngest population in the world, with about one million Africans entering the job market every month. However, more than 390 million people are living below the poverty line, while less than 10% of 18-24 year olds are enrolled in some form of post secondary education or training.
Investing in people is therefore seen as a key pillar of the upcoming EU-Africa strategy, announced by the European Commission in March, with priority given to the fight against inequality, young people and the empowerment of women.
Chrysoula Zacharopoulou (Renew Europe, France), who wrote the Parliament's proposals, emphasises the need to ensure access to quality education and provide young people, especially women and girls, with the necessary skills to access the job market.
Decent working conditions are seen as key to providing prospects to the rapidly growing population. This goes hand in hand with inclusive social protection systems, measures against child and forced labour and a transition from the informal to the formal economy. The informal sector makes up nearly 86% of all employment in Africa.
The new strategy should also improve health care and strengthen national health systems, making them more resilient to future crises. MEPs want to step up EU-Africa collaboration on health research and innovation to boost local production of equipment and medicine.
Reducing Africa’s dependence on imports
The EU-Africa relationship “must move beyond the donor-recipient relationship”, according to the Parliament report, emphasising the importance of supporting Africa’s domestic production through sustainable investment.
It also proposes boosting intra-African trade through the continental free trade area, investment in transport infrastructure and better access to global markets.
Public-private partnerships and funding small and medium enterprises are considered essential, as these smaller firms represent 95% of businesses in Africa and the private sector is expected to be decisive in the post-Covid recovery.
All agreements should be compatible with human rights, labour and environmental standards and in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals, said the report.
The report also calls on international lenders, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to do more to relieve the debt burdens of African countries, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Partners for a green and digital transition
Africa bears the least responsibility for climate change, but it is bearing the brunt of its impact: in 2019, nearly 16.6 million Africans were affected by extreme weather events, 195% more than in 2018.
The report urges a transition to a clean and circular economy through investment in sustainable transport, green infrastructure and renewable energy. It also stresses the need to protect Africa’s unique biodiversity and indigenous communities, as well as ensuring fair and sustainable exploitation of raw materials, which account for 49% of EU imports from Africa.
A partnership on sustainable agriculture should be at the centre of EU-Africa relations, say MEPs, in order to develop environment-friendly farming practices, strengthen the resilience of farmers and address food system failures, aggravated by the closure of borders due to the Covid crisis.
The digital transformation will play a key role in the modernisation of the farm sector, but also education, employment, health and people's participation in political decision-making.
A migration policy based on solidarity and shared responsibility
Since 2015, the EU and African countries have developed a joint approach to managing migration flows, which has led to a reduction in irregular migration and improved cooperation on the fight against migrant smuggling. Yet significant challenges remain. Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than a quarter of the world’s refugees and Mediterranean crossings continue to cause loss of life and fuel criminal networks.
MEPs stress that the new EU-Africa partnership must put the dignity of refugees and migrants at its heart, addressing migration as a shared responsibility between European countries of destination and the African countries of origin. They also emphasise the need to tackle the root causes of displacement, guarantee fair asylum procedures and establish a migration policy that would create opportunities for skilled and unskilled workers.
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