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European investment in Africa’s agri-sector vital for global food security




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Faced with rampant prices for vital staple crops following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the breadbasket of Europe, and desperate to stem the growing cost of living crisis, governments and companies across the EU and elsewhere have been forced to seek out other sources of agricultural products.

It is difficult to replace Ukraine’s supply quickly. Its infrastructure allows crops farmed cheaply on its rich, black soil to reach international markets quickly. The sheer volume of its exported produce has made the eastern European country a key player in international food markets.

As buyers and traders recognise the need to diversify supply more broadly, many are increasingly looking to Africa as a potential source of key crops to fill the void left by Ukraine and protect their supply chains from other shocks in the future.

It makes sense for Africa to take up a more significant role. Home to 60% of the world’s arable land, agriculture and its related businesses are a key driver of development and a leading employer on the continent. With over 70% of Africa’s population in jobs linked to the production, processing or sale of food, these sectors make up 25% of its GDP.

Yet despite this wealth of resources and people available, Africa remains a net food importer. A deficit in technology, knowledge, and skills – all hampered by a lack of investment – holds back Africa’s ability to feed itself and become a source of raw and processed goods for others.

And Africa does struggle to feed itself. In 2020, over 281 million Africans were undernourished, an increase of nearly 90 million since 2014. Climate change and conflict are the immediate factors blamed, but behind those drivers is a fundamental issue – the absence of sustainable investment directed at tackling the problem and building domestic industries that provide jobs, opportunity and hope to communities across the continent.

Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa sector is a classic example of the problem. Despite producing 38% of the world’s cocoa crop, the West African nation misses out on significant value because much of the raw material is exported to processing plants abroad that convert it into its final form. As a result, Côte d’Ivoire actually imports chocolate, the more expensive processed product, despite its wealth of the primary raw material.


The French European Council presidency, which began in January, has made improving relations with Africa a key part of its foreign policy agenda. This has been supported by an EU-Africa Global Gateway Investment Package, announced in February at the European Union-African Union Summit in Brussels, which aims to invest €150 billion across the continent. While the intent is admirable, it will take time for this capital to be deployed in a way that is meaningful and will have a real impact.

There are some European firms that have been ahead of the game for some time and have spotted the need for real sustainable investment to make Africa more self-sufficient and secure in food. Private sector firms from Europe are investing at all stages of the food production cycle, finding opportunities to develop operations and wealth for local communities across the continent.

Local partnerships are key for a successful investment with long-term impact. Swiss-based trader Paramount Energy and Commodities teamed up with a local food distributor in Angola, the Carrinho Group, to bolster food security in the region. Paramount invested over $500 millon in the construction of a large food processing plant that not only provides jobs to local communities but has also lowered food costs in Angola and its neighbours, with products like pasta, rice and tomato paste now being produced at home. Such is the success of this initiative that other countries are taking steps to attract similar investment, while Paramount is expanding the remit of its ‘Empowering Africa’ programme to build long-term businesses across the continent.

Critical to these operations is the development of infrastructure and the transfer of the knowledge of how to develop it, improving supply chains across the continent. Solevo Group, a previously French, now UK-owned supplier of fertilizers and other agricultural products, has developed a broad network of storage facilities, distributors, and sales representatives across West Africa and in other countries to ensure that its products are delivered to farmers in the very small window necessary to secure maximum benefit for crops. This knowledge and best-in-class approach can make business and trade more efficient once others begin to replicate its methods.

The common theme with these firms and others is the acknowledgement that self-sufficiency in agriculture and building local industry is key to Africa’s long-term development. The private sector has a vital role to play in the continent’s evolution, particularly in bolstering industrial and commercial efficiencies and, perhaps most importantly, as a source of capital that is more agile.

For the benefit of the local populations and their European friends, the development of Africa’s agriculture sector must speed up to make the continent self-sufficient, and to fill the gaps in crop production caused by the Russian invasion in Ukraine. These two goals may be different, but the route to get there is the same, and investment from Europe will be the driving force to get there. 

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