Agriculture is more than a branch of industry
Not only does it produce food and other resources, but it creates jobs, it uses, tends and conserves ecosystems, and is a foundation of economies and cultures in rural areas. Farming’s multifunctional importance counts for nothing in the global market for agricultural goods. All that matters there are trade balances and prospective profits.
Together with our ambassadors from Burkina Faso, India, Kenya and the Philippines we want to make the public and the policy-makers in the EU aware of the appalling impacts of trade agreements and EU agricultural policy and show them alternatives.
It is high time
From the 1980s onwards international organisations have pressed successive governments in the developing world to cut grants to agriculture and open up their markets to food imports. Since then cheap imports – including from the EU – have driven many farmers out of the market. More and more farmers give up their work and move into the slums in the cities. As a result of the decline in agriculture many countries become trapped in a dangerous dependency on food imports. When in 2008 commodity prices soared on the world markets, these imports often became unaffordable. The consequence: in 2009 the number of chronically undernourished rose by 150 million to over a billion people – the highest level in history. Nor is an end to this hunger crisis in sight. The EU wants to increase its agricultural exports further with the aid of trade agreements and – as ever – subsidies. We are demanding an end to this policy, which drives more people into bankruptcy, hunger and poverty every day.
Sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty are our alternatives to the EU’s industrial, export-oriented agricultural policy. We share this viewpoint with numerous smallholder organisations and agricultural experts from developing countries, who prefer ecologically sound, regionally based and small-scale farming. To achieve this aim EU agricultural policy must change. Public funds for farming are to be welcomed, but only as long as they do not lead to export dumping. Agricultural policy must take second place to social, human rights and environmental interests. That is why it is vital for the countries targeted with EU exports to regain the “policy space” to impose import taxes on agricultural goods at their own discretion. It is imperative that land rights are protected and strengthened, and that access to water and locally suitable seed is secured for small-scale farmers. Agricultural resources are not there to be used as a petrol substitute for cars, and cropland is not there for the stock market. They are there to feed the growing world population.
Dialogue - not monologue
“Until 1945 European thinking meant more or less colonial thinking. I believe that we should now ask the people in Africa, South America and [...] Asia what they think. We have always been overly confident about our philosophies. Now we in Europe need to reconfigure the way we think.” Heinrich Böll, speaking on Saarland Radio in 1984, on the occasion of the first direct elections to the European Parliament
The conflict of interests between the former colonial countries and the European Union is especially evident on the question of global agricultural trade. That is why we have picked up on Heinrich Böll’s proposal in the “Ecofair Trade Dialogue” project. We do not want to go over the heads of the people, but want to enter into a dialogue with them. For that reason, since 2005, regional consultations have been taking place on all continents, involving scientific institutes and organisations representing smallholders and landless groups. Together we have developed strategies for gearing agricultural trade to the goals of human rights, environmental sustainability and food sovereignty. To implement these strategies we need to get the European public and their political board.