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Read Michael Pollan's NYTimes editorial on the Farm Bill, Weed It and Reap


*You have an opportunity now, the second week of November, when the US Senate begins debate on renewing the Farm Bill for another five years. 

“US Farm policy promotes overproduction of the commodity farm, which has effects on the third world and on the American diet. The price of fast food and meat has gone down while the price of fruit and vegetables has gone up. What does that tell us? Current farm policy has little support for local agriculture and local foods.”  Michael Pollen., author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, quoted in “Is the US Killing African Farmers?” Whole Life Times, March 2007

This bill has direct impact on farmers in the Sahel.  In addition to funding food stamps, conservation programs, research, etc., the Bill also funds direct government payments to producers of commodity crops, to the tune of over $12 billion, about 15% of the whole. Only one quarter of all American farms receive commodity subsidies; of these, the top 10%--the largest farms--get 75% of all subsidies.  Growers of just five crops—corn, wheat, cotton, rice, and soybeans—receive 92% of the total. These subsidies are an incentive for over-production, and it is here that their impact is felt globally:  the substantial surplus is dumping on the international market at well below the cost of production. In African countries, often prohibited by World Bank or IMF open-market regimes from subsidizing their own farmers or imposing tariffs (“trade liberalization”), farmers are unable to compete. 

An Oxfam study found that “with a complete removal of US cotton subsidies, the world price of cotton would increase by 6-14%, prices that West African farmers would receive for their cotton would increase by 5-12%, and household income would increase by 2.3 to 5.7%. This increase would result in additional income that could cover all health care costs of four to ten individuals for an entire year, or schooling costs for one to ten children, or a one year supply of food for one or two children.”  Cotton is often the only commodity crop for many farmers in Benin, Burkino Faso, Chad, and Mali,

    From the Wall Street Journal:  “The U.S. paid its 9,000 rice farms $780 million of subsidies in 2006, according to the Department of Agriculture. […] Ghana is the U.S.'s biggest rice market in Africa. An average ton of U.S. rough rice cost  $240 to sow, tend and harvest this year. By the time that rice left a U.S. port in July, U.S. subsidies cut the price to foreign buyers to $205, the USDA says. 

    “That discount prices [Ghanaian farmers] and farmers in other developing countries out of the market. Using equipment that ensures U.S.-level rice quality, [a Ghanaian farmer reports his] costs come in at $230 a ton.” (Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck in the WSJ, Dec. 27, 2006)

    From Der Spiegel: “The United States spends $1.2 billion on food for the world's hungry, making it the biggest provider of food aid. It is also the biggest contributor to the UN's World Food Program (WFP). But […] instead of donating money, the United States donates food, almost all of which it produces itself. The government buys grain from its subsidized farmers, and the grain is transported by US shipping companies and loaded onto US ships.  In this way about half the value remains in the United States -- a hidden subsidy at the expense of the hungry. It is also noticeable that poverty in the world seems to rise sharply during times of the greatest US overproduction. When that happens, even countries that are not in need receive free grain -- to the detriment of local farmers.”,1518,482209-5,00.html
(The charity organization CARE has announced that after 2009 it will no longer accept U.S.-donated food aid to Africa.)