Europe and West Africa know they have a milk problem — but they cant agree on how to solve it.
Multibillion-euro dairy multinationals — from Danone and Lactalis in France to Glanbia and Ornua in Ireland — are exporting milk powder at a swift clip to meet high demand in fast-growing African economies. Those exports stem in part from an increase in production since EU milk quotas were removed in 2015.
Local producer groups, government officials and farmers say this flow of European milk has pushed farmers in countries such as Senegal and Burkina Faso to the brink as they struggle to compete.
They have support from the European Milk Board, a dairy producer association, which argues that EU measures have led to a large volume of milk on the market and low prices for their own producers.
Brussels efforts to address these complaints, such as setting up a task force aimed at boosting jobs in struggling rural African areas, havent quelled concerns and West Africans have now brought their fight to Europes doorstep.
Last week — with support from the European Milk Board — milk producers from Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and Chad met politicians and producer groups in France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Germany to push back against the influx of European milk.
“The struggle for a quality milk powder will continue in the same way that Europe fought against Nutella containing palm oil” — Juliette Paule Zingan, Senegalese MP
While a recent report by Brussels rural Africa task force acknowledged that European milk and poultry exports to African countries are often cheaper than local equivalents, part of the issue is Europe and West African producers dont see eye-to-eye on the extent of the impact.
“I am disappointed with the sentiment expressed by the European Milk Board and some African NGOs in relation to what is happening,” said European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan at a meeting of EU agriculture ministers on Monday. “Its fake news, its misinformation and I think some people may be advocating for a policy of starvation.”
Nor do they agree on whether certain European milk export products mixed with palm oil are helping or hurting local populations.
“Some people will always try to deny the facts. But it is sure that we will not be taken advantage of,” said Juliette Paule Zingan, a Senegalese MP representing the countrys Benno Bokk Yakaar coalition.
Looking at the numbers
European pressure on Africas dairy producers intensified in 2015, when the EU lifted its milk quotas. That decision left the EU awash in milk, sent prices tumbling and made sure EU dairy companies needed new markets to rid themselves of their glut.
But Hogan has argued that the amount of exports going to Africa is actually not that large.
“We have exported 1.15 billion metric tons of skimmed milk powder to Africa in the last year. Only 90,000 [metric tons] went to West Africa,” Hogan said on Monday to try to prove his point.
Official EU trade data paints a different picture. Total EU exports of skimmed milk powder to the world to reached 821,757 metric tons in 2018, with 277,565 metric tons of this entering the whole of Africa, of which 46,057 entered West African countries. That means about one-sixth of EU exports to the continent went to West Africa, compared to the miniscule fraction described by Hogan.
A European Commission spokesperson on Tuesday admitted that there had been a “small misunderstanding” on the figures.
But while EU officials acknowledged that the figures cited by Hogan are unclear, they stand by their central argument that the Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU and African countries provide African governments with the possibility to keep or reintroduce tariffs on European agri-food products, and therefore do allow these countries to have control over their markets.
Another bone of contention from NGOs carrying out work in West Africa is exports from Europe of so-called fat-filled milk — skimmed milk powder mixed with palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia — which has rapidly entered West Africa in recent years at rock-bottom prices and fueled claims that Europe is offloading substandard produce on Africa.
Brussels argues introducing vegetable fat into the milk is a way of offering affordable goods to African consumers, and makes the product more resistant to climate conditions.
But West African locals counter that it means the final product has fewer nutritional benefits and that consumers in Africa are unaware of this due to poor local labeling laws.
“The struggle for a quality milk powder will continue in the same way that Europe fought against Nutella containing palm oil,” said Zingan. “Was that fake news?” the MP added, referencing Hogans comments Monday and