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The African Union, Bilateral Engagement & Agricultural Development: Delegation to Ethiopia

The visit of the delegation to Ethiopia covered several interests and agendas and was envisaged as a coordinated effort between the BGIPU, the Africa APPG and the APPG on Agriculture and Food for Development.

Therefore the three main aims of the visit were to;

  • Deepen bilateral parliamentary relations, and establish greater understanding of the role of the AU in parliament
  • Explore the relationship between democracy and growth, both in the context of Ethiopia itself and through the African Union
  • Examine agricultural development in the country, in particular looking at examples of where investments and government policies in agriculture have had impacts on improved nutrition

Alongside these key themes the delegation also explored other issues and policies during the course of the week and below is a report of the key findings in the three areas outlined above and other areas of interest that emerged during the course of the visit.

The delegation was led by Lord Steel of Aikwood, accompanied by Lord Chidgey and Lord Cameron of Dillington. The Peers were joined by Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal African Society for the first part of the programme and accompanied throughout by Stef Kenyon, International Project Manager, BGIPU and Victoria Crawford, Research Coordinator, Africa APPG/Royal African Society.

Bilateral and Parliamentary Relations

During the programme the Delegation had the opportunity to meet with Ethiopian Ministers and Parliamentarians to discuss the topics of bilateral coordination, economy, development and agriculture.

The death of long standing Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in August 2012, prompted fear of an uneasy transition for the Ethiopian government and ruling political coalition party the EPRDF. The appointment of the technocrat Hailemariam Desalegn in September 2012 eased fears as he promised to continue the legacy of Meles “without change”.

The Parliament of Ethiopia, as established by the 2005 Constitution, is a bicameral system consisting of the directly elected, 547 seat House of People’s Representatives and the 120 seat upper chamber the House of the Federation which is elected directly or indirectly by Regional State Councils. In the lower chamber the ruling coalition hold all but one of the seats, with one Opposition member.

During meetings with the Speaker of the House of the Federation and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Peoples the UK delegation discussed a range of issues with their parliamentary counterparts including; the specific legislative and non-legislative powers of each chamber and their composition.

Opposition representation was discussed with the representatives of both houses with discussions on how this is developing in Ethiopia given the majority representation within Parliament, with the Deputy Speaker of the House of People’s Representatives, Hon Shitaye Mirale Tizazu stating her commitment to developing democracy as “an issue of existence, not just development” and explaining efforts to engage with all parties through regular councils which allow without parliamentary seats the political space to influence the work of the parliament.

In addition the issue of capacity was raised with the delegation, emphasising the need for the Parliament to increase its human resource capability and improve training and retention of staff within the parliament to increase institutional knowledge. The delegation discussed with representatives how this might be achieved and it was suggested that clerk level training would be beneficial and could be explored in follow up to the visit,

The Delegation also had the opportunity to meet with the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Finance and Development, details of which are covered within this report elsewhere.

The African Union; its role in supporting growth and democratic development on the continent.

Given the location of Addis as the Headquarters of the African Union, there was also a regional aspect to the delegation’s programme with the opportunity to meet with representatives of the African Union and the UNECA (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa).

In particular the delegation was honoured to meet with the Chairperson of the African Union, Madame Zuma. During the brief meeting with the Chairperson, Lord Steel discussed with her the peacekeeping operations in Somalia, the Congo and elsewhere and the successes and challenges these missions faced. Lord Chidgey and Lord Steel raised the issue of the crisis in the Central African Republic with the reported disintegration of government, the breakdown of law and order with attacks on both Christian and Muslim communities with fears rising of genocide breaking out. The Chairperson was able to confirm that a mandate had been granted for an AU Mission of some 4,000 troops to be deployed around the end of the year dependent on when the details of the mandate could be settled.

During the meeting Lord Chidgey raised the issue of sexual violence in conflict, citing his meetings with women and girl victims in Goma in the DRC, and asking the Chairperson if she would support the Foreign Secretary, William Hague’s campaign on preventing sexual violence in conflict. Madame Zuma confirmed willingness to support this campaign, stating that gender issues had always been and would continue to be a prominent part of her work and agenda and that she would soon be appointing a dedicated advisor to deal with Women’s Rights.

The link between Women’s Rights issues and the upcoming theme of the Commission in 2014 as “the year of agriculture” was also highlighted, with the Chairperson detailing the initiatives through highlighting land tenure rights for women and access to finance that would be launched by the AU Commission to mark this theme. During the year the Commission will also seek to highlight obstacles to increased efficiency in agriculture across the continent still remain and the ultimate target of African countries as a whole achieving net export status in terms of agricultural output.

Finally the issues of funding and capacity of the AU were also discussed with the Chairperson, who, whilst grateful for the support of the donor community to the AU, expressed her hope that more ownership and funding might in future come from within the Member States and that the creation of highly skilled, mobile and empowered workforces in Africa alongside improved infrastructure networks were among the highest of hers and the Commission’s priorities.

The priority given to infrastructure development by the AU Commission was further emphasised by the Deputy Chair of the Commission, Mr Erastus Mwencha, who discussed with the delegation the AU’s 20 year infrastructure development plan which will be key to African integration, attracting investment and increasing competition.

In other discussions the Delegation were able to learn about the work of UNECA in providing research and technical support to the AU, particularly in the areas of food security and agriculture. Of particular note was reporting being carried out by UNECA on extractive industries looking at the true economic impact for African states of corruption and poor governance in these sectors, as well as the wider impact of illicit finance flows. The High Level panel on Illicit Financial Flows convened by UNECA and the AU Commission and led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki will examine the real terms impact of illicit finance across the continent and how Africa and importantly G8 and other countries can aim to tackle this debilitating problem.

In addition the delegation were able to meet with representatives of the European Union Delegation to the AU, who discussed the role of the EU in the relationship with the AU, and assistance provided to the AU by the donor community, in terms of training and human resource support, particularly to the Peace and Security Directorate.

Agricultural Development in Ethiopia

With 2014 as the Year of agriculture for the AU, the issues surrounding development of agriculture were discussed in both a bilateral and multilateral context by the delegation during their programme.

In a meeting with the Ethiopian Minister for Agriculture, Mr Tefara, the delegation discussed the policy of “agriculture-led industrialisation” being pursued by the government and the impact this policy is having on smallholders in particular. This policy towards smallholders focuses upon up-skilling farmers and aims to equip them with the technology, training and equipment necessary to improve efficiency, delivered through regional and local administrative extension services. The Minister recognised that growth in the sector would be dependent on delivering these services beyond the current level of 30% of smallholders who presently have access to such best practise methods, although the delegation learned elsewhere that the delivery of these extension services was challenged by a lack of resources on the ground and that the number of extension workers active was considerably lower than the government policy suggested.

In the meeting with the Minister, Lord Cameron discussed in further detail government policies towards agriculture, including, post-harvest storage and loss policies, irrigation methods, investments in green and renewable energies and seed and fertiliser distribution – noting that fertilisers supplies were imported by a government owned body rather than opened up to internal production or private sector imports – a discussion which prompted the reflection that more could be done to encourage wider private sector involvement in the agriculture sector which, if done effectively could lead to greater efficiency. There was also a discussion on the issue of land tenure and ownership and the model of regional unions and cooperatives working with smallholders at a collective level to allow access to markets.

The delegation had the opportunity to look first hand at agricultural development projects in a visit to Butajira, south of Addis Ababa, visiting the Edget Seed Producers Union, the first of its kind in Ethiopia, which working alongside local farming cooperatives has established a wheat and teff seed production programme, which provides training and financing options to smallholders and primary cooperatives. The delegation was able to visit the Union’s storage warehouse and laboratory facilities and learn about their work. There was also the opportunity to visit a local cooperative’s wheat field and talk with the farmers themselves about the challenges of seed availability and the benefits to them of working within the local cooperative and union. This initiative, which is supported by DFID and Self Help Africa amongst others, has enabled the primary cooperatives to establish links through the seed producers union to the national research union with the ultimate goal of expanding the availability of quality seed to smallholder farmers. The Delegation found the visit to be extremely informative and learnt of the supply challenges currently faced by smallholders with regard to seed availability.

The delegation also had the opportunity to meet with Diageo representatives at the Meta warehouse in Addis Ababa to discuss with them their pilot project to source within Ethiopia the barley required for their production processes. Diageo bought out the government owned Meta Brewery nearly two years ago, which was at the time importing 60% of its malt requirements; the company have since then introduced a pilot scheme, which will soon enter its third year, working with Smallholder farmers to produced the barley required for the malting process. The delegation learnt of the challenges faced by this project, in particular regional organisational differences and lack of sufficient infrastructure and discussed with representatives such issues as what risk management and training is offered to farmers involved in the project.

In addition we were able to visit the Ethiopian Commodity exchange, which since its establishment in 2008 has been acclaimed for assisting in the boosting of exports from Ethiopia and has allowed farmers to gain greater access and increased transparency in the market. The Delegation was able to discuss with officials how the model functions and what methods and systems are in place to prevent corruption.

Other issues which also arose during the course of the delegation’s programme are summarised below as follows;

Telecommunications:

  • In a number of contexts during the programme it was highlighted that the lack of liberalisation in the telecoms sector in Ethiopia is perceived to be a hindrance to development i.e. in agriculture the rapid impact of mobile phones upon farmers access to and information about markets seen elsewhere in the continent was not seen to have been replicated in Ethiopia where the telecoms sector is still heavily state-owned.

Opposition parties:

  • It was noted that there is a seeming lack of coordination between most of the formal opposition parties; leading to a frustration amongst civil society groups and representatives that there is no credible alternative voice within the political space. It was also noted that the concept of a constructive, “loyal” opposition, was yet to emerge.

WTO Negotiations:

  • The forthcoming 9th Ministerial meeting of the WTO in Bali was raised with the Minister of Finance and Development. It was noted that this meeting will hopefully see a deal reached on trade facilitation, elements of agriculture and development issues, and that although Ethiopia is not yet a member, its accession process is underway and any deal reached in Bali will have implications for Ethiopia in the future. It was also noted that DFID, in conjunction with BIS, has potential to support the Ethiopian Ministry of Trade in meeting its accession commitments; this was marked for further follow up.
  • You can read here Jonathan Djangoly MP’s report on the Parliamentary conference on the WTO held in paralell to the 9th Ministerial

Education and Employment:

  • It was noted that the surge in numbers of Ethiopians that are and will be in higher education in the near future – there are now 32 Universities in the country – will create a challenge for the government in that these graduates will demand sufficient employment opportunities and unless this is addressed there will be a significant demographic challenge.

You can also read Lord Cameron’s relfections on agricultural development in Ethiopia here.

BGIPU