[permaculture] [Fwd: [SANET-MG] WTO and EU are forcing farmers off the land]
Lawrence F. London, Jr.
lfl at intrex.net
Thu Jul 7 23:07:48 EDT 2005
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [SANET-MG] WTO and EU are forcing farmers off the land
Date: Thu, 7 Jul 2005 19:23:43 -0400
From: jcummins <jcummins at UWO.CA>
To: SANET-MG at LISTS.IFAS.UFL.EDU
http://www.i-sis.org.uk/AWF.phpISIS Press Release 06/07/05
Agriculture without Farmers
The WTO and EU agricultural policies are sweeping farmers off the land
in droves and threatening world food security. Rhea Gala
References to this paper are posted on ISIS members’ website. Details here
Farming has evolved over thousands of years with the farm as the basic
unit of local community and culture. Its practice was shaped everywhere
by geography and the creative skills of the farmer to be optimally
productive. Since the arrival of the tractor and the industrial ‘green
revolution’ of the 1940s, small family farms have lost out to big
industrial farms, and much of the local knowledge accumulated over the
millennia has disappeared
Trade policies benefit agribusiness: Small farmers everywhere are
In industrialized countries like the UK where the population is largely
urban, 200 000 farms have disappeared between 1966 and 1995 . The
annual UK Common Agricultural Policy budget of £3bn gives 20 percent of
farmers (large agribusinesses) 80 percent of subsidies. Government
figures show that 17 000 farmers and farm-workers left the land in the
year 2003, having failed to make a living .
While only 5 percent of the population in the European Union (EU) are
still farming , at least half a million farm-workers were still
leaving the land annually before the EU was enlarged by 15 new members
in May 2004. It is now likely that Poland alone will lose up to two
million agricultural livelihoods as a result of joining the EU . EU
figures suggest that half of north European agriculture will disappear
within a generation , as it continues to be squeezed out by the
institutions that claim to give it support.
In the US, between 1950 and 1999, the number of farms decreased by 64
percent to less than two million, and farm population has declined to
less than 2 percent. Ninety percent of agricultural output is produced
by only 522 000 farms . Canadian statistics similarly reveal that
farm numbers have decreased by 10 percent between the 1996 census and
2001; there were less than 247 000 farms in the country in 2001 .
This relentless process of consolidation drives the heart out of the
countryside, causing social and economic decay, and replaces it with an
intensive industry that cares nothing about plant or animal diversity,
quality or compassion in farming, but is solely interested in bringing
down prices [1,7].
‘Free trade’ policies made by and for the rich countries of the North
not only destroy the livelihood of small-farmers at home, they also
encourage the dumping of subsidized goods (selling at less than the cost
of production) from the North onto the markets of the poor South,
distorting local markets, and leaving farmers in developing countries
also unable to compete [1, 7, 8].
This has become a global scandal, as 75 percent of the population in
China, 77 percent in Kenya, 67 percent in India, and 82 percent in
Senegal still depend on farming for their living . These numbers are
plummeting, however, as families dispossessed of their land are driven
to the cities, where they may find themselves unable to afford to pay
for the food they used to grow.
Agribusiness degrades the environment while governments do nothing
‘Free trade’ policies of World Trade Organization (WTO) promote
overproduction of agricultural commodities causing damage to wildlife,
depleting soil, water, and fossil fuels; and at the same time
compromising food quality, with substantial repercussions on public
health [1,7]. They also greatly exacerbate global warming in many ways,
not least the millions of unnecessary food-miles added to agricultural
commodities. Professor Jules Pretty of Essex University estimated that
the total external costs for conventional agriculture in the UK, paid
for by the taxpayer, added up to £2.34bn for the year 1996 .
The UK government remains a chief obstacle in the fight against
international poverty and environmental degradation, despite its
seemingly green credentials on climate change, and its recent high
profile in tackling poverty in Africa. That is because the UK continues
to espouse an economic model that promotes privatisation and trade
liberalisation as the key to reducing poverty and protecting the
environment, although that model has proved to have the opposite
effects. The UK has been at the forefront of EU efforts to push through
an aggressive ‘free trade’ agenda at the WTO .
Transnational corporations (TNCs) have been allowed to gain control of
supply chains and exert a stranglehold on global food security through a
process of ownership of seed, proprietary chemicals, and other inputs,
as well as virtual monopoly of food processing and retail outlets
[2,7,11]. Yet our governments are refusing to rein in the increasing
power of TNCs that have been swallowing each other up until only a
The Agreement on Agriculture of the WTO and the Common Agricultural
Policy (CAP) of the European Union are largely responsible for
precipitating this global catastrophe in our food production system.
The Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union
When the EU introduced the CAP in the early 1960s, it struck a deal with
the US under the framework of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs
(GATT) negotiations. The US accepted the new border protection
mechanisms put in place by the EU for food, in return for a commitment
by the EU to allow unlimited import of feedstuffs from the US at zero
tariff. The EU agreed because it was still a net importer of food and
feedstuffs; but only 15 years later, the EU itself was producing large
surpluses of grain and animal products as a direct result of this deal
The zero tariff for feedstuffs enabled Europe’s huge surpluses of the
1970s to be dumped on developing countries, creating a major global
problem. Feedstuff imports from the US had led directly to the
industrialization of animal production in the EU and its associated
environmental problems .
The CAP, which aimed to "ensure a fair standard of living for the
agricultural community" , has for many years provided direct aid to
farmers based on area, production, and number of livestock units
(animals) . This policy gave large monocultural farms enormous
subsidies, caused massive overproduction that lowered prices, drove
small farmers out, and consolidated the power of agribusiness. TNCs have
become vast selling seed, pesticide, machinery etc to farmers at great
profit, buying produce at below the costs to farmers, and selling it on
to consumers on a huge scale and at enormous profit [7,14].
The CAP reform of 2003 introduces a new system of single farm payments
that ‘decouples’ the link between support and production. It comes into
force in 2005-6 except for new member states, and its stated aim is to
ensure greater income stability for farmers, leaving them free to decide
what they want to produce in response to demand, without losing their
entitlement . However, this is not the effect it will have.
Farm business consultants Andersons and the National Farm Research Unit
predict a further 30 percent decrease in British cereal growers and
another 35 percent decrease in dairy farmers when the new single farm
payments kick in. These payments will be lower than the previous
payments made to smaller farms; yet prices for produce currently remain
near or below the cost of production .
A survey of English farmers showed that 87 percent did not want
subsidies, only a fair return on their costs of food production. DEFRA
figures showed average farm income in 2002 at £10 000; with farm-gate
prices having risen just 2 percent in the last seven years. Meanwhile,
supermarket prices have risen by 21 percent, and in 2002-3, Tesco’s
profits were 60 percent of total UK farming income .
CAP reform was also greeted with dismay abroad. NGOs such as the
Catholic aid agency CAFOD and Oxfam said it would mean "dumping as
usual" for developing countries .
CAP has positively encouraged the most senseless and environmentally
destructive "food swaps"
Britain imported 61 400 tonnes of poultry meat from the Netherlands in
the same year that it exported 33 100 tonnes of poultry meat to the
Netherlands. Britain imported 240 000 tonnes of pork and 125 000 tonnes
of lamb, while it exported 195 000 tonnes of pork and 102 000 tonnes of
In 1997, 126 million litres of liquid milk were imported into the UK and
at the same time 270 million litres of milk were exported out of the UK.
Twenty three thousand tonnes of milk powder were imported into the UK
and 153,000 tonnes exported out 
In 1996 the UK imported 434 000 tonnes of apples, nearly half of which
came from outside the EU. Yet over 60 percent of the UK’s own apple
orchards have been grubbed up since 1970, largely as a result of EU
The WTO Agreement on Agriculture
US agricultural policy has traditionally promoted cumulative growth 
and privatisation of seed at taxpayer’s expense . That has wrung all
the profit out of farming and into trading, processing, and retailing,
controlled by a few TNCs [11,19, 21]. Research shows the share of the US
agricultural economy going to farmers declined from 41 percent in 1910
to 9 percent in 1990, while farm input and marketing industries’ shares
increased by a similar amount .
As small farmers are pushed out, others enlarge their operation, for
example, in the US pig industry a quarter of all producers went out of
work between 1998 and 2000, leaving just 50 businesses controlling 50
percent of all US production. Yet, independent pig farmers produce more
jobs, more local retail spending, and more local per capita income than
larger corporate operations; and profits generated by small producers
(of any commodity) are more likely to remain in the community and
benefit the local economy .
As in Europe, these policies have led to low plant and animal genetic
diversity, low prices, many failing small farms, and environmental
degradation, and because they are geared towards maximising export,
similar effects are spreading all over the world. Seventy percent of the
world’s poorest people, who directly depend on the land, are forced to
compete with the rich nations .
The 1996 Freedom to Farm Bill followed by the 2002 US Farm Bill produced
a vast structural price-depressing oversupply of major agricultural
commodities in an attempt to comply with WTO rules [19, 22]. The
Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) came out of the Uruguay Round of the
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations between the
US and the EU (1986-94) that led to the founding of the WTO . It
provides the rules governing international agricultural trade and, by
extension, agricultural production .
The AoA is based on the firm ideological belief that trade
liberalization brings net benefits to all participants. By removing
barriers to trade, regional specialization will increase and regions
will specialize in whatever their agriculture can produce more cheaply
than others. It dictates that when products are exchanged, everybody
gains because the combined cost of production is less than if each
region had produced its own. In practical terms, this means promoting
exports and limiting the right of countries to follow a policy of food
The aim of the AoA is to reduce the use of the following three methods
that favour domestic production
Border protection against imported products (the cheapest and most
widespread method used)
Internal support measures for domestic producers (mainly used by
developed countries with taxpayers money)
Export subsidies (used exclusively by developed countries) 
But the US negotiating position claims the right to spend tens of
billions of dollars to compensate farmers for market failures rather
than addressing those failures directly [8, 19]. In 2003, over half of
the compensation went to less than 2 percent of farmers, again
benefiting only very large businesses . Furthermore, developed
countries maintain the right to continue with several forms of support
that are now illegal for any other country to introduce .
The US, with its chronic overproduction in major commodities, always
needs new export markets, and its policies therefore affect production
everywhere. For example, rice, the staple of most of the poor nations,
is grown on around 8 000 farms in the US; half of it in Arkansas where
the biggest 332 rice farms, each over 400 hectares in size, produce more
rice than all the farmers of Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, and
Senegal combined .
In 2003, the US’s crop of 9m tonnes of rough rice cost farmers $1.8bn to
produce. Farmers received only $1.5bn from rice millers, but were
sustained by government subsidies, which totalled $1.3bn. Between 2000
and 2003 it cost on average $415 to grow and mill one tonne of white
rice in the US, but that rice was exported around the world for just
$274 per tonne and dumped on developing country markets at a price 34%
below its true cost .
Surpluses may also be designated ‘food aid’ and monetized, i.e., sold on
the recipient country’s market to generate cash. Most US programme food
aid is sold to recipient countries through concessional financing or
export credit guarantees. The US is nearly the only country that sells
‘food aid’ to recipient countries; other donors give it in grant form
, but both strategies reduce prices both for developing country
exporters and for smallholders in importing countries, and deepen and
prolong the depression in world market prices .
Current agriculture policies undermine human rights
The WTO’s stated aims are to raise living standards, ensure full
employment, and raise incomes; and the AoA is specifically meant to
further the WTO’s aims by "establishing a fair and market oriented
agricultural trade system". But a report by the Institute for
Agriculture and Trade Policy released in March 2005 accused WTO
agriculture policies of undermining human rights; by promoting a trade
liberalization agenda that overrides efforts to improve livelihoods in
four ways .
Promote the ‘right to export’ over human rights
Fail to tackle corporate control
Allow export dumping at artificially low prices to continue
Lock developing countries into an uneven playing field
Using data from the US Department of Agriculture and the Organization
for Economic Cooperation and Development (2003), the report describes
how exports from US-based global food companies were dumped onto world
agricultural markets .
Wheat exported on average 28% below cost
Soybeans exported on average 10% below cost
Corn exported on average 10% below cost
Cotton exported on average 47% below cost
Rice exported on average 26% below cost
This dumping has greatly increased since the inception of the AoA ,
and prices have dropped to new lows ; but as all WTO members have
ratified at least one of the international human rights treaties, these
instruments could be used when designing trade policies .
The policies of international agribusiness
The laws that bind international trade derive from the ideology of
international agribusiness whose common interest lies in opening up
developing country markets. Close links with governments and academia
are exploited to persuade policy-makers and the public that trade
liberalization is clearly in the best interest of developing countries
Agribusiness is at the heart of creating US trade policy, thanks to the
Agricultural Technical Advisory Committees for Trade. Members appointed
in 2003 were selected, according to former US Trade Representative
Robert Zoellick , to "coincide with the continuation of the Bush
Administration’s aggressive push to open foreign markets to US
agricultural products.... Coordinating with our agricultural community
will continue to be important as the tempo of negotiations for global,
regional, and bilateral trade agreements intensifies."
In the US, as in many countries, there is a fast-revolving door between
top posts in agro-industry and government; and agribusiness sits in the
top ten of industry donors to candidates and political parties in US
elections, contributing over $340m to campaign funds since 1990 .
Policies reinforce industrial agriculture at the expense of sustainable
During this multinational bonanza, industrial agriculture and its
policies are placing enormous stress on the world’s small farmers and
the renewable resource base, especially water and soil. Moreover, the
local knowledge and plant genetic diversity most needed to truly sustain
the world are being lost. Recent research has demonstrated the
resilience and productivity of many traditional agricultural practices
that have withstood the test of time [7, 21,27, 28].
It has also documented the damage done when small, diverse organic
farms, that have only one third of the hidden costs of non-organic
agriculture , are pushed off the land by distorted markets, and
replaced with large monocultures oriented towards export production .
But government policies tend to emphasize a handful of major crops that
require large fertilizer and pesticide inputs, and ignore resource
conserving crop rotations for which farmers receive no government
incentives, or sustainable practices such as growing clover or alfalfa
to enhance soil fertility. They also perpetuate chemical-intensive
agriculture by funding research on chemical fixes for agricultural
problems, to the exclusion of research on more sustainable options .
Sustainable systems are especially able to compare favorably with
conventional systems when the comparison includes a full cost accounting
of the environmental and public health harms and benefits of each
system; but these costs are usually externalized, or paid by society
rather than the polluter .
There needs to be dedicated support for sustainable food production by
small farmers who have served us well for thousands of years; and a
curbing of the power of multinationals who serve only themselves. In
spite of spin from politicians about ‘making poverty history’, their
trade liberalisation policies can only continue to ruin local economies
everywhere while serving the global elites.
The International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture
suggests the following changes to agricultural trade policy that would
help make the world a much fairer and healthier place :
Permit tariffs and import quotas that favour subsidiarity. This means
that whenever production can be achieved by local farmers using local
resources for local consumption, all rules and benefits should favour
that option; thus shortening the distance between production and
consumption. Trade should be confined to whatever commodities cannot be
supplied at the local level, rather than export trade being the primary
driver of production and distribution.
Reverse the present rules on intellectual property and patenting. These
strongly favour the rights of global corporations to claim patents on
medicinal plants, agricultural seeds, and other aspects of biodiversity,
even when the biological material has been under cultivation and
development by indigenous people or community farmers for millennia.
Localize food regulations and standards. Rules that benefit global food
giants, such as irradiation, pasteurization, and shrink-wrapping also
negatively affect taste and quality; and industrial processing has led
to an increased incidence of food poisoning and diseases in farm
animals. Each nation should be allowed to set its own high standards for
Allow farmer marketing/supply management boards. These let farmers
negotiate collective prices with domestic and foreign buyers to help
ensure that they receive a fair price for their commodities. Less than
two years after the North American Free Trade Area (that dismantled the
government price regulation agencies) went into effect, Mexican domestic
corn prices fell by 48% as a flood of cheap US corn exports entered the
country. Thousands of farmers have been forced to sell their lands
Eliminate direct export subsidies and payments for corporations.
Although the WTO has eliminated direct payment programmes for most small
farmers, they continue to allow export subsidies to agribusinesses. For
example, the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation funded by US
taxpayers, provides vital insurance to US companies investing overseas.
Even loans from the IMF to Third World countries have been channeled
into export subsidies for US agribusiness
Recognize and eliminate the adverse effects of WTO market access rules.
Countries need new international trade rules that allow them to
re-introduce constraints and controls on their imports and exports.
These would prevent heavily subsidised Northern exports from destroying
rural communities and self-sufficient livelihoods throughout the South.
Many people now working, for example, for poverty wages at Nike and
other global corporate subcontractors are refugees from previously
self-sufficient farming regions.
Promote redistributive land reform. The redistribution of land to
landless and land-poor rural families is a priority. This has promoted
rural welfare at different times in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and
China. Research shows that small farmers are more productive and more
efficient, and contribute more to broad-based regional development than
do the larger corporate farmers.
Come and have your say at our Sustainable World Conference in
Westminster, London July 14-15, 2005 Details:
The Institute of Science in Society, PO Box 32097, London NW1 OXR
telephone: [44 20 8452 2729] [44 20 7272 5636]
General Enquiries sam at i-sis.org.uk - Website/Mailing List
press-release at i-sis.org.uk - ISIS Director m.w.ho at i-sis.org.uk
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