EU turns to Covid playbook to ease African food crisis

G7 considers plan to increase fertiliser production in similar manner to vaccines

African Union chairman and Senegalese President Macky Sall joined in the G7 talks on Monday. Getty Images
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European officials want to ease a global food crisis by producing more fertilisers in Africa, in a strategy modelled on their response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The suggestion by the European Union was considered by world leaders at the G7 summit in Germany on Monday and is designed as an offer from the wealthier countries to cushion developing nations against the lack of food and fertilisers coming from Ukraine.

Food from Ukraine normally feeds hundreds of millions of people but the war with Russia has brought exports via the Black Sea to a standstill, with road and rail proving only a partially satisfactory alternative. Fertiliser exports have also ground to a halt.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday briefed G7 leaders on his efforts to re-establish a maritime route and rescue stranded food before the next harvest forces farmers to throw it away.

But the EU plan to support the manufacturing of fertilisers in Africa is seen in Brussels, where it is championed by European Council President Charles Michel, as a way to reduce the continent’s dependence on Europe in the longer term and prevent a similar crisis from arising in future.

An official close to the talks said the two African presidents invited to the summit, Senegal’s Macky Sall and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, had expressed support for the proposal along with France.

Mr Sall, who holds the rotating chair of the African Union, last month told EU leaders that the continent was facing a “catastrophic scenario” of rising prices and food shortages.

Another official said the fertiliser proposal would “build on the successful experience with vaccine manufacturing”, when leaders under pressure to share doses sought to increase production in Africa.

Although the EU was initially criticised for a sluggish vaccine programme, it now regards its policy in that field as a success and wants to sign common gas contracts along similar lines.

Funding from the private sector and development banks meant “cutting-edge technology in vaccine production was rolled out in a very short time in the African continent,” the official said.

A milestone was celebrated in February when South African scientists produced a replica of the Moderna vaccine.

The G7 leaders said in a statement on Ukraine that they wanted to “demonstrate global responsibility and solidarity” by tackling the problems inflicted on vulnerable people by the war.

They said Russia “bears enormous responsibility” for the food crisis, but said they would work to reduce any “spillover effects” of their own sanctions.

Argentina, India and Indonesia were also invited to the summit as western powers sought to portray themselves as allies amid an array of global problems.

Updated: June 27, 2022, 5:30 PM