Een (Engelstalig) artikel over het internationale handelsbeleid met betrekking tot landbouw, armoedebestrijding en G8. In haar verklaring verwerpt de West-Afrikaanse boerenbond ROPPA de oplossingen van de G8 inzake honger en armoede. Strukturele veranderingen zijn juist nodig, zoals het stoppen van de liberalisering en privatisering van de Afrikaanse dienstensectoren en economieën, en politiek beleid en strukturele investeringen gericht op versterking van kleine boerenbedrijven.
Roppa vertegenwoordigt de armsten in hun deel van Afrika, namelijk de boeren. Dit verhaal is echter toepasbaar in alle delen van de derde wereld.
(met dank aan Guus Geurts)

Juli 2005 (Unofficial translation)

Ten years after the alarm bells were sounded by the World Food Summit in 1996, there has been little improvement of the food situation for a large number of the worlds population. They are still more than eight hundred and forty (840) million people who suffer from hunger and, two (2) billion who have nutritional deficiencies. The objective to reduce by half the number of people suffering from hunger by 2015 cannot be achieved on current trends.

The situation is particularly serious in Africa. Millions of people are food insecure and live in daily poverty. More than half the population of Sub-Saharan African has less than 1 US dollar a day to feed themselves and
develop. Three quarters of these poor come from rural areas. Thus, hunger and poverty affects mainly the family farmers who provide most of the regions basic foodstuffs.

The reasons given to explain hunger and poverty are known and often repeated. To mitigate these, the international community has made multiple calls for help and renewed commitments to Africa, the only continent where poverty is not declining. All kinds of initiatives, strategies, plans and programmes have been developed during the past twenty years: structural adjustment programmes, support for good governance, programmes to fight against poverty, support for liberalization and privatization, Lomé agreement, access to markets...! Its hard to keep track!

All of this has cost the international community billions of dollars, it's said! But what has it meant for agricultural producers? What has been the impact? All the evidence indicates that qualitative improvements in the systems of production are far from being assured. For West Africa, subject to repeated droughts, only 1.2% of the cultivated area is irrigated compared with 19.6% in the rest of the world. In spite of the poverty of our soils, we have only 0.1 kg of fertiliser for each hectare whereas much of the rest of the world uses 100 kg/ha. So far as investments in our production are concerned, we have difficulty in raising even $20 from the banks for each hectare. Control of diseases and insects is simply out of our reach; the recent locust invasion testifies to this. Fortunately we have our local seed varieties and our indigenous knowledge that under no circumstances do we want threatened by genetically modified varieties or innovations that have been insufficiently tested and could have potentially the disastrous consequences for ourselves and our thankfully still healthy environment!

The Paradox: an Agricultural Africa which depends on outsiders to feed itself

In spite of difficult climatic conditions, natural disasters, multiple conflicts, the absence of support and protection measures, we increased our agricultural production by 20 to 80% between 1990 and 2002, more than North America (from 0% to 20%) or Eastern Europe which fell by up to an estimated 50%. Moreover, as is known, our products are the principal source of the monetary incomes of our countries. Our capitals and large cities were built on our labour!

But our quality of life has basically not changed! We still have difficulties in accessing basic social services. Our young people no longer want to stay in our villages nor to devote themselves to rural professions! Quite simply because agriculture enterprises are no longer able to feed the people who depend on them or to ensure livelihoods for families and support children! To get cash, we have had to replace a part of our food crops with production for export, destined to supply the factories in your countries of the North.

This situation has made West Africa a net importer of foodstuffs when, hardly ten years ago, it was a net exporter. From 1993 to 2002, the sub-region increased its cereal imports by 60% (18.2% for the rest of the world) whereas its production increased only by 16.3% (6% - the world average). This massive importation, which is largely supported by food aid and distortions in the international market, is the result of bad choices in agricultural policy and the application of a dogmatic liberalism preached by the International Financial Institutions with the blessing of the donor countries, including those of G8.

The massive and uncontrolled import of foodstuffs has had perverse effects on local production, farming and producers incomes. Many family farms in the coastal zones have had to give up poultry production or growing rice for sale in local markets because of imported foods, some of which enjoy direct or hidden subsidies.

The world market cannot eradicate hunger and poverty

The situation could become worse if our States are forced to open our borders and our agricultural and food markets as required by agreements of the WTO, and as stipulated by the European Union (in the Economic Partnership Agreements). The simple truth is that the current system of liberalization and globalisation brings no benefits to farmers. Whether they are from Africa, Europe, Asia or the Americas, family farms are seeing their incomes diminish day by day in spite of increases in production. Many of us have been forced to abandon our farms and young people have had to leave the land.

We, agricultural producers from indebted or highly indebted poor countries, in other words "the lowest of the low" are not convinced that the world market will suffice to reduce our poverty and eradicate hunger. There has never been a time when we were not in the world market as producers of raw materials for export and principal sources of foreign exchange for the vast majority of our countries. Yet that has had little basic effect on our situation of poverty.

We know, we at the village level, that the market is important for trading, but it is especially favourable for commercial middlemen and rich people! The international market could perhaps be advantageous for farmers, but for the moment it only benefits the multinationals! It is for that reason we think that those who control this world, those who are "the highest of the high" must take courageous measures to radically change the current system of international trade, in the WTO and EPA negotiations, and to develop more adequate instruments of regulation and supply management of agricultural produce.

Think of other policies

We, African agricultural producers, represent the vast majority of those who are poor and hungry! But we do not want to live off charity and humanitarian good will! We do not want to build our rural societies on food aid, however generous it may be! We want above all to live from our work! We want agriculture and farmers to be valued for their work and multiple functions: nutritional, social, environmental and cultural. A farm is not a factory! It is a production unit, of course. But it is also a way of life, a way of being and of sustaining society! Agricultural products are not manufactured goods whose trade can be controlled simply by the imperfect laws of the market.

The time has come to change things! The time has come for other policies and other types of investments in Agriculture. Poverty will not disappear from our villages so long as it is not recognized that agriculture is fundamental to freeing our countries from food dependence, i.e. to support their food sovereignty, as was the case in Europe or America. Poverty and hunger will be always present so long as agricultural producers will not be able to produce more and to have stable incomes, sufficient for all the family; this requires production, of course, but all a market, domestic, local markets in the first instance. Poverty and hunger will not disappear
from our countries until we, our products and our trade receive appropriate support and protection measures from our governments.

Blair initiative: can and must do better

Since 2001, the G8 summits have been important events at which new commitments have been made by the richest countries for themselves, the world and Africa. All the initiatives should be welcomed with optimism, those of Blair in particular! But, poverty and hunger are diseases which can only be attacked at the root, i.e. their political causes. It is not a matter of proposing technical solutions and injecting a large amount of dollars to make things change in Africa.

In order for Blairs initiative to be plausible, he cannot ignore the analysis of the links between liberalization and privatization of the economic sectors and services in Africa, on the one hand, and poverty in the rural world on the other. He should also recognise the right of countries to food sovereignty and the right to food for everyone , and to do this through concrete political acts and structural investments in family farming.

As long as aid is conditional to adopting development models dictated by dogmatic liberalism, West African economies will continue to decline and misery and multiple sources of tension will increase, as we have witnessed in recent years. Blair must support the right of each country, in particular those of Africa, to protect its agriculture and its economy including through tariffs.

It is necessary without any doubt, to remove the heavy yoke that prevents West African governments from developing another policy to replace the bungled "Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs)" in whose formulation the vulnerable poor and their organisations took little part.

Blair will also have to get his peers to call an immediate halt to the negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements between Europe and ECOWAS. It is totally unrealistic to envisage the creation of a free trade area, setting Europe in competition with the countries of ECOWAS, which are among the poorest in the world. That is in total contradiction with commitments to lead Africa out of poverty.

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(Dit artikel was oorspronkelijk op GlobalInfo gepubliceerd door Réseau des Organisations Paysannes et des Producteurs Agricoles de lAfrique de lOuest (ROPPA).)