Local farm talk links U.S., West African farmers
Agronomist seeks shift to fair trade rather than free trade that causes imbalances.

By Greg Bowman

Africa connection

Amadou Makhtar Diop—who directed the work of The Rodale Institute in Senegal, West Africa, for many years—will accompany delivery of specialized bicycles to Botswana this month. See the cycles and learned about the partnership between The Rodale Institute and Biketown Africa that makes the shipment possible at (www.rodaleinstitute.org/
biketownafrica
). BikeTown Africa, founded by Rodale Inc., publisher of Bicycling magazine, is designed to provide bicycles to assist AIDS sufferers in Africa.

The Institute hopes to facilitate another partnership bicycle delivery to West Africa at a later time, this one going to Senegal in a continuation and expansion of a previous project to aid farmers. The bicycles help farmers to haul goods to market, reach meetings with agricultural experts, provide low-cost local transportation and help reduce congestion and exhaust on crowded city streets in larger urban areas where farmers’ markets provide good profit opportunity for outlying producers.

--GB

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 America (www.oxfamamerica.org) and the National Peace Corps Association (www.rpcv.org).