April 10, 2013 / 2:05 PM / 6 years ago

EU urges investment drive in African farm sector

* Farm chief calls on EU business to boost investments

* Europe keen to match rising interest from China, Brazil

* Investments must respect local land rights, Ciolos says

BRUSSELS, April 10 (Reuters) - European companies must invest more in Africa’s agricultural sector to keep pace with growing interest from countries such as China and Brazil, the bloc’s top farm official said on Wednesday.

Home to a quarter of the world’s fertile land but only 10 percent of global agricultural output, the potential for growth in Africa’s farming sector is clear, EU farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos said.

But poor transport and storage infrastructure are among the factors holding back growth in the sector, which not only threatens the continent’s food security, but also presents an opportunity for private investment from Europe and elsewhere.

“This shows the importance for the European Union to be present in the food security debate and not turn its back on Africa, just as other parts of the world become more and more interested,” Ciolos told a workshop in Brussels on African farm investment.

Greater private investment in African agriculture would also help fill the gap created by declining European public support for the sector, which has fallen by half since the 1980s, Ciolos said.

“Agriculture has been side-lined in favour of other political and economic priorities, despite the challenge of global hunger,” he said.

Rising global food demand in recent years has driven an increase in large-scale land investments in sub-Saharan Africa by foreign companies, which have been accused of “land-grabbing” with the help of compliant African officials.

Ciolos said governments and companies had a shared responsibility to ensure that any investment respected the rights of local communities to access land, and urged a focus on investing in small farmers which account for 70 percent of total output. (Reporting by Georgina MacDougall; Editing by Charlie Dunmore and Helen Massy-Beresford)

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