May 9, 2003:
As the military conflict in Iraq drew to a close, some very
big American corporate players entered the scene. This should
First came Vice President Dick Cheney's old company, Halliburton,
which won a no-bid federal contract to restore Iraq's oil
industry. Then came Bechtel, which in a secret, limited competition
won a fat contract to help rebuild the country.
Now, in the person of Dan Amstutz, multinational commodity
interests have moved into the Fertile Crescent. Amstutz, newly
appointed senior ministry adviser for agriculture in Iraq,
has a career that extends from trade negotiator in the Reagan
era to corporate executive for huge grain exporter Cargill
to private consultant advocating free trade in agriculture.
In a recent phone teleconference aired from Kuwait, Amstutz
said that by helping Iraq make the "transition to the
market economy, we can see health returning to agriculture
and incentives to employ good farming practices and modern
techniques." He also noted that the sanctions imposed
on Iraq over the past decade have left its farmers "short
of spare parts, fertilizer and pesticides."
In these brief comments alone, American citizens and taxpayers
as well as Iraqi citizens should start to feel alarm.
Over the past 40 years of American agriculture based on increasing
production and export-based policies, farmer numbers have
decreased from around 20 percent to less than 2 percent of
the population. In that same time, University of Minnesota
economist Richard Levins has shown, net farm income remained
flat while gross farm income increased substantially. In fact,
over the past two years net farm income would be in the red
without government subsidies.
Fred Kirschenmann, of the Leopold Center for Sustainable
Agriculture, has pointed out that the increase in gross income
has been absorbed by the marketing, processing and input sectors:
fertilizer, trucking, packaging and equipment. For farmers
this means a faster and faster treadmill of expansion to keep
up with expenses and technology.
Who wins in this scenario? Over the past decade, U.S. farm
policies have paid farmers for production while farm exports
have steadily decreased. Where has this money gone? Not into
net farm income, but into the pockets of input purveyors like
Monsanto and Koch Industries, and into the profits of marketers,
handlers and corporate giants like Cargill and ADM.
Is this what the American public wants when it spends tax
money for farm programs in the United States? And is this
how we want our tax money spent in Iraq for agricultural development?
Instead of promoting a system that will impoverish Iraqi
agriculture and enrich corporate interests, we should focus
first on the basic human needs of the nation. Iraq has some
rich agricultural resources that could be devoted to diverse
farms growing healthful food to feed the hungry -- not with
the paper dollars of the marketplace, but with real grains,
fruits and vegetables.
Secondly, agricultural advisers should not come out of the
self-serving business and corporate world. Instead, the United
States should look to agencies like its Peace Corps, which
has a history of helping communities and nations develop self-reliant
and sustainable agriculture.
In his teleconference, Amstutz also spoke about the potential
export market that Iraq represented for animal feeds, and
for food. Again the enticement for production arises. And
again, we should remember who really reaps the harvest. While
U.S. and worldwide farm profits continue to drop, exporter
Cargill posted over $241 million in profits in the first three
quarters of its 2003 fiscal year, up $90 million dollars from
the previous year.
Is it any wonder that Kevin Watkins, policy director of the
international aid organization Oxfam, calls the Amstutz appointment
comparable to "putting Saddam Hussein in the chair of
a human rights commission"?
People who value agriculture, democracy and sustainable development
must call for a change. We did not enter the Iraqi arena to
be occupiers who replace one system of tyranny with another.
Jim French, a farmer and rancher, is communications specialist
for the Kansas Rural Center. He is a member of the Land
Institute's Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kan. Learn
more about the PWC at http://www.landinstitute.org/