International agency Oxfam America welcomed the alternative thinking to current US farm programs outlined in the Risk Management Paper released yesterday by the US Department of Agriculture as a glimmer of hope for reform. According to Oxfam, the next Farm Bill should help American farmers rather than continuing government support for trade distorting subsidies that encourage farm consolidation and overproduction.
Speaking at a food industry conference in Chicago, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns laid out for discussion alternatives related to future farm policy reform. Proposals presented included a shift of funds from marketing programs to crop insurance, rural development, conservation and farm savings accounts, targeting smaller and mid-sized farms for support programs and making USDA programs compliant with World Trade Organization rules.
"Secretary Johanns is to be commended for putting these options on the table for discussion" said Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America. “The current farm bill subsidy program is not helping America’s farmers or rural America, is dangerously out of step with international trade rules and it hurts poor farmers in developing countries."
The current Farm Bill is set to expire in 2007, offering an important opportunity for necessary reform and to put in place new policies that truly support those who make their living off the land. Currently, more than 75% of America’s farmers receive little or nothing from current commodity subsidy programs. Subsidies encourage overproduction, with the surplus dumped on the international market, lowering prices and undercutting the livelihoods of millions of poor farmers around the world.
“America’s agriculture policies can do so much more to help America’s farmers in a way that would be in line with our international commitments and would not hurt family farmers all over the world who are ready to lift themselves out of poverty through farming and fair trade,” said Offenheiser. “That’s why this opportunity for reform is so important to deliver a sustainable, diverse and fair agriculture system.”
Oxfam welcomed the news in light of a discouraging proposal by some in Congress for an extension of the current FB until the Doha round at the WTO is complete. The current Farm Bill is widely viewed by US trading partners and the WTO as non- compliant with current international rules, because it encourages overproduction and increases trade-distorting subsidies.
“Reforming the Farm Bill provides us with the opportunity to do better for farmers here, address global inequities and put the US in a stronger negotiating position in the international trade negotiations,” said Offenheiser.