US Farmers Back from West African Trip: 'Our Agriculture Policy is Shameful'

By Oxfam
A delegation of American farmers has returned to the US after spending last week meeting with West African farmers and getting a first hand look at the effect of US agricultural policies on the lives of farmers in developing countries. The tour, sponsored by international agency Oxfam America, comes at a crucial point in time as the current international negotiation on trade at the WTO continue and as the U.S Congress starts work on authorizing a new Farm Bill in 2007.

The participants, wheat, cotton, dairy, corn, sheep and cattle farmers from Texas, Illinois, Kansas, Virginia, and Vermont, met with local and regional producer organizations, farmers working in the fields, as well as representatives from the US and Malian government. Internationally acclaimed Malian singer, Habib Koite, also met with the farmers in Mali’s capital, Bamako.

“I don't think you can come away from such a trip without some realization that our agriculture policy is shameful,” said Leo Tammi, a commercial sheep producer in Mount Sidney, Virginia. “We went to bear witness, and we've seen theft - we saw these livelihoods being stolen because of our government’s policy.”

Oxfam has been campaigning for the reform of US agriculture policies, which encourage overproduction of commodity crops, such as rice, cotton and soybeans. According to the international aid organization, the surplus is dumped on international markets at prices well below the cost of production, undermining local production, threatening the livelihood of millions of farmers and depriving developing countries of earnings and market share.

“Because of subsidies, the price of commodities has decreased to a point where the village receives no profit, preventing them from building a school, or have a health clinic, or even to invest in equipment that could improve their farming,” said Jim French, a rancher from Reno County, Kansas and an organizer with Oxfam America. “The people we met live always one drought or natural disaster away from famine and displacement.”

“The poverty struck me the most because it is so widespread,” said Ken Gallaway, a third-generation, medium-scale cotton and corn farmer from near Lubbock, Texas. “There's just no comparison between the living conditions in the US and in West Africa.”

“We have a lot of things in common with farmers around the world,” said Charlie Melander, a wheat farmer from Salina, Kansas. “Farmers in the villages we visited shared their concerns over weather, lack of rain, yields, production costs and profitability.”

“These folks are struggling and even as great as that struggle is, we were welcomed with open arms everywhere we went, which was a little surprising considering where we came from,” said Terry Steinhour, who grows corn, soybeans and cattle in Greenview, IL. “If every farmer in the US saw what we saw, it would change their opinion on subsidies.”

“I saw a glimmer of hope because they saw hope in us,” Dexter Randall a dairy farmer from North Troy, Vermont. "We may come from very diverse areas, but we all have one thing in common: the survival of the family farm, not just in the US but across the world.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tour participants and Oxfam spokesperson are available to speak to speak with journalist one-on-one. For more information, please call Laura Rusu at 202-496-3620 or 202-459-3739

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