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International Partnerships

Sustainable food systems


Agriculture in developing countries is facing important challenges: climate change, environmental degradation, biodiversity reduction, and rapid population and economic growth are all putting increasing pressure on agriculture in developing countries. If nothing is done to curb the tendency, the gap between the food supply and demand is bound to deepen. Agriculture therefore must become sustainable and resilient, to produce more and better food at affordable prices while protecting the environment. It also needs to bring bigger returns to create opportunities for growth and poverty reduction in our partner countries.

Our approach

Sustainable agriculture, from economic, social and environmental perspectives, is a central topic of our development cooperation agenda with our partner countries. We focus our work in this sector on:

  • investing in small-scale farms – We strive to reduce the vulnerability of small-scale farmers as they are proven to bring the greatest returns in poverty reduction.
  • supporting governmental initiatives and programmes that encourage sustainability and innovation in the agricultural sector – We therefore also invest in research and development projects to find solutions striking the right balance between developing productivity and not jeopardising natural resources, while strengthening agricultural innovation systems for long term impact.
  • promoting agricultural practices and technologies that raise rural income while being sustainable in terms of water, soils and ecosystems, and biodiversity
  • improving farmers’ access to productive assets, such as land, capital etc., notably by encouraging local cooperation and partnerships between farmers
  • leveraging more private investments in the agricultural sector
  • empowering women in agriculture

Our programmes


In 2018, the European Commission launched the new Africa-Europa Alliance for sustainable investment and jobs, to boost public and private investments in African countries, including in the agricultural sector.

The EU External Investment Plan (EIP) uses guarantees and other financial tools to reduce investment risks for private investors. For example, the EIP will enable the European development finance institutions and the African Development Bank to create 81,500 new direct jobs and 244,500 indirect job opportunities in Africa, with a special focus on young people and women. It will help small businesses become more resilient and develop their growth potential.

We also support farmers’ organisations, notably with the Farmers’ Africa Programme which helps build the capacities of the Panafrican Farmers’ Organization representing 52 million small farmers, or whom more than 26 million are women.

Investments must respect the principles of responsible business conduct, as set out in the ‘Principles for responsible investment in agriculture and food systems’ (RAI) and in the ‘Voluntary guidelines on the responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests in the context of national food security’ (VGGT). We apply the VGGT in 40 partner countries and have supported the preparation of technical guides and tools to facilitate their use. These guides and tools have benefitted more than 200,000 land governance stakeholders already so far.


Since 2017, we promote the ‘Development smart innovation through research in agriculture’ (DeSIRA) initiative in our partner countries, to better link research and innovation with national programmes for a climate-relevant transformation of their agriculture and food systems. We pledged € 270 million to support DeSIRA’s implementation, starting with more than 20 countries in Africa and Latin America.

Moreover, our average annual share of climate-relevant actions in the field of nutrition, food security, and sustainable agriculture has continuously increased since 2007, to reach 63% in 2017.

The EU supports global research partnerships such as the former Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Through the CGIAR, improved technology adapted to and the capacities of thousands of smallholders were improved. Around 156,000 small-scale farmers ended up adopting the new approaches and technologies.


Our results

Our efforts to increase responsible investments in sustainable agriculture and food systems have already yielded important results. Here are some key general numbers:

  • Since 2014, more than 3 million smallholder farmers have benefitted from EU-funded actions aimed at increasing their sustainable production, access to markets, and security of land.
  • With our support, more than 3.8 million smallholder farmers were assisted by rural advisory services.
  • Worldwide, more than 800,000 women and men have achieved secure tenure of land with the help of EU funding.
  • Our support has also contributed to the introduction of sustainable land management practices in more than 4 million hectares of land in agricultural and pastoral ecosystems.

Related documents

8 MARCH 2022
Action Plan on Nutrition - Fourth progress report April 2018 - March 2019
8 MARCH 2022
EU Achievements in food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture