African Challenge to Cotton Subsidies "Vital For Millions"
Gawain Kripke Oxfam International
May 1, 2003 - Oxfam International warns that if rich
countries fail to act on yesterday’s challenge from four
African countries against US and EU cotton subsidies,
then millions of African farmers will face slow ruin.
Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad - on behalf of West
and Central African countries - have asked WTO members
to dismantle cotton subsidies at its ministerial conference
in Cancun in September.
They also want compensation for poor countries while
the subsidies are scrapped. "American and European taxpayers
are financing the destruction of livelihoods of millions
of cotton farmers in Africa," said Celine Charvariat,
head of Oxfam's advocacy office in Geneva. "In the United
States, the cotton barons of Texas and Alabama are getting
huge subsidies, selling their cotton on world markets
below the cost of production and driving more efficient
African farmers out of business." Rich country subsidies,
especially those from the US, have helped halve world
cotton prices since the mid-90s, causing economic and
social crisis in African countries where 10m people depend
on the crop. Oxfam says that Africa is losing $300m a
year as a result. An elimination of subsidies could lead
to a 25% rise in world cotton prices.
The US pays three times more in subsidies to its farmers
than it does in aid to the 500m people living in Africa.
One farm - US Tyler farms in Arkansas that controls 40,000
acres - received $6m in cotton subsidies in 2001, equivalent
to the combined average income of 25,000 Mali farmers.
Oxfam talked yesterday to a farmer, Soloba Mady Keita
in Mali, who said that "life is tougher than it's ever
been, and we no longer live year-to-year, we now live
day-by-day. When it comes to trade we are totally forgotten."
Soloba needs 200,000 CFA ($300 USD) to break even each
year, but now earns only three-quarters of that amount
and doesn't know how his family will survive if his cotton
income remains as it is.