SP Senator: Give Africa the chance of a 'right to food'

10 June 2008

SP Senator: Give Africa the chance of a 'right to food'

SP Senator Eric Smaling seized the opportunity of today's policy debate in the Senate – 'People and development cooperation' – to urge that attention be given not only to the present 'right to food', but also to a proposal to bring about an improvement in the situation in Africa.

Eric SmalingThe right to food already exists, tucked away in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights But this right is, Smaling argues, “indispensable to an effective use of civil and political rights.” In this context he pointed to the memo recently issued by Development Cooperation Minister Bert Koenders. Entitled ‘Agriculture, development and food security', it was criticised by Senator Smaling for its country-by-country approach.

Smaling went on to make the following points: “My parliamentary group has doubts about this approach and feels that it is supported in this by research carried out by the International Food Policy Research Institute. In this context we should give some thought, for example, to West Africa, to the economic region of 15 countries known as ECOWAS. Why not, instead of the minister's five thematic currents, develop a Common Agricultural Policy for this region? The Netherlands could not do that on our own, but we could do so with like-minded donors and the EU. If you forget the national frontiers in this region, you're left broadly speaking with three climate zones: the Sahel, the Savannah and the humid coastal zone where all the biggest towns and cities are found. It's there you find most consumers. The following questions are now relevant. What is the current demand for food in the region, and what is it expected to be in the near future. How is the pattern of food consumption changing? How and where can we increase the production of rice and meat? Where is the best land? Should a layer of phosphate be applied generally, as the famous University of Wageningen professor Cees de Wit suggested in the 1970s? That wouldn't be all that difficult, given the phosphate reserves in the region. What natural areas should be preserved? How we can help producers with investment? How can we lower tariffs between countries without missing out on the income from them? How can, for example, these countries gain more in taxes on incomes and profits? How can we coordinate the research agendas of Sahel countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger? How can we better coordinate the Netherlands' policies in partner countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana and Benin? Let's include Togo also in this, so that we can bring cohesion to the aid efforts in five neighbouring countries.”

Minister Bert Koenders took the challenging solutions put forward by the SP Senator seriously, saying that he was “very sympathetic to this, but our problem in Africa is that we can only set something like that going if the countries themselves want it. Moreover, the Netherlands alone is too small to set such a project up.”

Senator Smaling agreed, but said that “you could, however, certainly encourage such a development. The African continent has a need for integration. It is at this moment urgent that something is done about the food situation in this region. As a reaction to rising food prices rice-producing countries in Asia are suspending exports. This is the reflex of 'our own people come first'. And that is the reason why many African countries which have to import rice are taking a good look at this. The situation of late, you should note, shows how risky is a free world market in staple foods. So we should be striving to have as much food produced regionally as possible.”

Though the minister agreed, he saw many practical problems. Nevertheless, he felt that something could probably be set in motion via the African Development Bank.

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