Africa and Europe: perspectives on immigration, economy and agriculture

The future of Africa is becoming high on the EU agenda. The new EU commissioner Ursula Von der Leyen visited Africa during her first week in office. It is becoming evident that the future and security of Europe depends on what happens in Africa. However, there are two competing narratives on what will happen with Africa: one of despair and another of great hope and potential.

Kompassi and Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies (WMCES) organized a webinar on the 30th of November on common and interconnected future of Africa and Europe, with special focus on agriculture. See the full webinar in our YouTube channel.

What drives immigration from Africa to Europe?

Vít Novotný of WMCES reminded that six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world are African (2018) and thirty African states are middle income or high income countries. But poverty is imminent, too, as well as conflicts. Some 390 million Africans live beyond the poverty line. The both narratives indeed coexist.

Dr Novotný also reminded that EU still remains as Africa’s largest trading partner, despite the growth of Chinese influence in some countries.

EU has been working on a new Africa strategy. An important part of the strategy is the Cotonou agreement. The new strategy should be published in 2021.

Illegal migration from Africa to Europe continues to be a contentious issue. The big question with Africa of course is population, which is estimated to double or even triple in the coming decades. The continent is experiencing a demographic transition that Europe experienced in late 19th century, driven by decreasing mortality and high fertility resulting in a population growth way above world average. 60% of Africans are below 25 years of age.

Over 50% of African immigrants to Europe are young (below 30) and an overwhelming majority of them migrate in a perfectly legal manner (family reunification, work, education, etc). And it is important to remember that most African migration happens within the continent.  Legal migration routes are being developed, but however, there still is no great need for new labor in the EU area as a whole. The new pact on migration…

Direct evidence between climate change and migration is not yet conclusive, but it can be one factor behind the development. Most of the migration due to climate change happens within the continent.

African economies – is there hope?

Arleen Westerhof, director of the Center for Economics and Mutuality based in Erasmus University, Rotterdam and founder of the Economic Summit shared of the present dysmal economic situation in African countries.

The current financial architecture of the world is not serving the purpose for African countries. Sub-Saharan African countries have experienced a steep fall in GDP and will be experiencing a very slow growth for the years to come. The G20 countries have agreed upon a suspension of debt servicing but the Sub-Saharan nations will need at least 2 to 3 years before any kind of recovery can begin. The countries are beginning to realize the answer cannot be more aid as the countries are struggling just to pay the interest of their loans. The risk of default is real. 

The lack of economic hope and better future is also a major push factor for youth wanting to leave the country or the continent.

Several nations around the world are gathering unsustainable levels of debt, not only in Africa. There will be a need of some kind of economic reset which hast to involve at least a partial debt-cancellation.

– If we don’t offer the current and next generation of African leaders and hope, in the end we will be paying much more. The debt burden will impact the next two or three generations. And this also involves many European nations, argued Dr Westerhof.

New jobs will be needed

In addition, the need for new employment opportunities in Africa will be huge as the population grows. There is no other continent in the planet with this kind of rate of growth.

Between now and 2030 450 million new jobs will be needed to provide for the new people entering the job market by then. However, sub- will be able to provide only 200 million new jobs and this situation will create a melting point for migration. Most Africans who leave due to lack of opportunity and hope in their nation.

– As Europeans we have to make it our interest to act in a proactive way to interact with African leaders.

Africa’s key assets: land and people

Dr Westerhof argued that Africa’s key assets are it’s land and people. The vast land resource in Africa is an underperforming key asset that would require investment and better management.

Africa is still today worlds poorest and most food-insecure continent. However, 60% of all uncultivated land that is not covered by forest, is in Africa as well as third of all desertified land that has lost its fertility. The potential is, therefore, immense. However, people are leaving lands that their ancestors have been cultivated for centuries due to e.g.  land degradation. Land-related conflicts also have been commonplace in the last few years and climate change plays a role in this. So, if nothing is done, by 2030 a lot more people will be making the crossing to Europe.

If nothing is done, by 2030 a lot more people will be making the crossing to Europe.

Africa is the only continent where, in the recent years, the land used for agriculture has increased but the overall yield has decreased. As an example, starting from the early 1990s the Ghanaian economy grew steadily and the percentage of people living in poverty decreased. Part of the success was due to ramping up the production of cocoa and investments in agriculture. However, countries that have not focused in developing the sector, situation is not as good. Specific policies aimed at improving local agriculture are important for starting the development towards tackling local hunger.

– In the 2017 Economic Summit meeting for Africa we searched for the one most important strategic thing that would help secure food security, relieve poverty and increase GDP and employment. Agriculture is it.

– 80% of all Africans living in poverty are women, and most of these are smallholder farmers. Between 60 and 70 % of people are employed in agriculture and 30-40% of the GDP is based on agriculture. A generation of young Africans are beginning to see the potential.

However, Africa is very rich in social capital and companies know this. One of the remaining impediments for growth in Africa is the still widespread corruption which of course is a globally widespread problem.

What does the future look like for youth in Eastern Africa?

Daniel Korpela from Arusha, Tanzania provided a grass-roots perspective on the development of agriculture and education in Eastern Africa and the impact of climate change.

Population in TZ is growing ca 3% per annum and youth (15-35) make almost two thirds of the working force. The education system is having hard time keeping up. It’s not uncommon to see up to 100 children in a class.

Life for youth is very difficult in Tanzania. Unfortunately many young people in are leaving rural areas to cities to look for employment. Most of them do not see agriculture as a viable livelihood and this mind-set is perhaps the hardest obstacle for developing the sector. Farmers themselves see themselves as the lowest class in the society.

Many of those who leave to cities, however, can only find a non-productive job in the informal sector and many may end up in petty crimes due to poverty.

The Tanzanian government is also now investing in developing agriculture.

In TZ 68% of  83% of all farms are small (av. 1,2 ha) and these contribute around 75% of the total food output.

Climate change has resulted in changing rainfall patterns as well as more severe floods, droughts and this has made farming more risky. In the past the rains were very frequent but this has changed and the rains are very unpredictabile. All this is very demoralizing for the farmers.

Fida International is also working to develop and promote climate-resilient farming practices in Eastern Africa.

Other challenges for agriculture also include poor agricultural infracture, lack of direct access to markets, poor availability of capital/credit, tools, and other necessary support services. Food storage also is very poorly developed and lossess in storage are common. Adding value to food produce is a very important potential.

What could be done?

Youth in Tanzania need jobs and vocational training. To develop the agricultural sector, a focus on training and education is necessary. For example, climate smart agriculture is being developed and Fida is involved in providing training for smallholder farmers. Helping farmers to form groups and table banks is also very important.

With sustainable climate-smart farming practices African farmers can even sequester carbon to their land and thus play a part in even mitigating climate change.

Summary: Tapio Luoma-aho

Image: Annie Spratt on