Posted May 12, 2006: Pastured-poultry farmer Brian
Moyer of Fleetwood, Pa., hosted a recent visit by a West African
agronomist and fair-trade advocate. The international farmer-to-farmer
visit highlighted how trade policy impacts agriculture in all nations,
and touched on a connection of The Rodale Institute in Senegal.
Local country and municipality officials gathered with farmers
and a TV newsman to hear Dr. Thiendou Niang of Dakar, Senegal, who
is director of the Agricultural Policy Expertise Network. The 20
West African nations in this network name poverty reduction and
environmental impact as their top concerns.
Using these key points, Dr. Niang explained the impact of US cotton
subsidies on Mali (West Africa), where 3 million farmers are dependent
in some way on cotton for income. A one percent increase in cotton
subsidies here meant a 24 percent drop in farmer income there, translating
to a 2 percent loss in national income overall. US actions allowed
the cotton to hit the world market at about 44 percent of its cost
of production, he said. In the West African nation of Burkina Faso,
U.S. foreign aid of $10 was more than offset by cotton trades losses
of $13 due to trade-distorting practices that favored the U.S.
When trade rules allow cheap imports of a major national commodity
into a developing country, there is depopulation of the countryside,
causing crowding and greater poverty in cities and frequent economic
immigration to the U.S. or other developed nations by people willing
to work for low wages just to survive.
Niang called for trade justice at the southern Pennsylvania farm
just as he had earlier during his visits at the Senegalese Embassy
in Washington, D.C. and Harvard University Center for Government
and International Affairs.
When he spoke, Moyer said his farm is an example of U.S. farms
that are surviving subsidy-free by producing food that customers
buy directly without the influence of government trade structures.
In the discussion that followed, Niang emphasized that he did not
favor an immediate halt to U.S. commodity subsidies that would put
vast rural areas of this country in economic peril. Rather, he is
asking his farm and policy audiences on his speaking tour to seek
U.S. policies that support farming practices and economies here
without causing major harm to rural economies elsewhere. His part
of the “Make Trade Fair” tour was sponsored by Oxfam
and the National Peace Corps Association (www.rpcv.org).