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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.

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