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Washington, DC — Current US farm policies effectively exclude farmers of color from any real benefits according to international agency Oxfam America. Highlighting the point, a diverse group of American farmers, as well as representatives from the Farm and Food Policy Diversity Initiative and Oxfam, descended on Washington today to call on Congress to write a more equitable Farm Bill. The House Agriculture Committee began deliberations on the bill this week.
Under the current system, African-American, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian farmers receive fewer, or often no, benefits from US farm programs when compared to their white counterparts, according to a new report drawn from research by the Tuskegee University and the University of Minnesota and released by Oxfam today. A legacy of discrimination, which resulted in a 97 percent decline in African-American farm ownership between 1920 and 2002, persists today. Producers of color are effectively shut out from US farm programs due to program designs that favor large-scale, commodity growers and large land-holdings, at the same time that they continue to receive inequitable treatment at the local level when seeking to access farm programs and services. In fact, minority farmers receive only one percent of all commodity payments, according to the Oxfam report.
“All farmers, young and old, white or black, should be on a level playing field, but that’s not what we see today, with so many of the commodity subsidies going to the biggest producers,” said Candice Wright, an African American farmer from Bladenboro, NC who came to Washington, DC for the release of the report. “With this new Farm Bill, we have the opportunity to put in place policies to help minority farmers be more viable.”
In the case of African-American farmers, 18 percent received government payments according to the report, compared to 34 percent of white farmers. And on average, white farmers received more than 2.5 times the amount going to African-American farmers—$9,300 compared with $3,460.
“I look forward to the day when the market provides a fair price for our grain, commodity programs are eliminated, and the USDA provides the needed oversight at the local county offices to ensure that programs and services are provided to all,” said Lloyd Wright, an African-American farmer who grows corn, wheat and soybeans with his brothers in the Northern Neck of Virginia and was the former Director of the USDA Office of Civil Rights.
“Reforming the Farm Bill will benefit many struggling farmers in my area,” said Victor Almazán, a second-year, immigrant farmer at the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association’s Small Farm Incubator in Salinas, California. “I have come to Washington to represent their needs, and I hope that Congress will hear us.”
Despite decades of unfair treatment of farmers of color, there are signs of hope. Farmers of color have been on the land since before the founding of this country, and despite extreme social and economic hardships they continue to survive. The 2002 Census indicates that the number of Hispanic farmers continues to grow, mirroring the overall increase in the number of Hispanic residents in the US. The 2007 Farm Bill will play a role in determining if these new-entry farmers and other long-time producers of color will have future opportunities to make a living in agriculture.
“It’s about time for real resources to be directed to fill existing gaps and assure program access to help producers of color stay on the land and contribute through viable operations to their often low-income communities,” said Savonala Horne, executive director of the Land Loss Prevention Project and chairperson of the Farm and Food Policy Diversity Initiative, a diverse collaboration of organizations representing people of color farmers, rancher, farm workers and urban food system advocates whose farm bill platform has been endorsed by over 70 organizations. “Such reform would be real rural development.”
“The current Farm Bill is not working, particularly for minority farmers,” said Minor Sinclair, director of Oxfam America’s US regional programs. “Members of Congress should get to work to reform commodity programs and invest resources in programs help minority farmers, as well as feed the poor, conserve natural resources, and support rural economies. Change is possible, if Congress finds the political will to stand against the status quo and end the discrimination and inequities associated with our farm programs.”