US launches "West Africa Cotton Improvement Program" (14/11/2005)

This US funding initiative, and coming USAID conference, are being made in the name of helping poor West African cotton farmers.

Comments from Glenn Ashton of SAFEAGE in South Africa

It is telling that Bt/GM cotton is not mentioned in this communique until the penultimate point, point 6, where it states - "Improve the enabling environment for agricultural biotechnology".

This highlights again the hypocrisy of the US ambassador to Kenya who said last week it was not the role of the US to promote GM crops. Sure, no GM crops, just biotechnology...

It is deeply ironic that the US is coming into the area to interefere in the agricultural and marketing process around W. African cotton, when it has been shown that the region can produce cotton at a lower price than the US.

The real problems are not in West Africa, but in subsidies for cotton farmers in the USA that distort the international market prices and have huge knock on effects for W African cotton farmers. Instead of dealing with this obvious problem the US is now actively interefering in the region to undermine African cotton farmers.

Hypocrisy does not even begin to describe this disgraceful situation.


PS from GM Watch: The allocation of $7 million to this West African project by the US administration can be directly measured against the cost and impact of the US's massive cotton subsidies - subsidies which even the WTO has ruled to be wrong.

The development group Action Aid provides the following costing:

- In 2002, the US produced 36% of the world's cotton exports. In the same year, subsidies to its 30,000 cotton farmers amounted to *$3.6bn*.

- The World Bank (2002) found that an end to all forms of global protection would increase cotton prices by an average of 12.7% over a 10-year period. The largest gains would go to Africa, with exports increased by an average of 12.6%.

- The African countries that rely on cotton are among the poorest of the world. They produce 17% of cotton sold on the world market.

- Production costs in Africa are amongst the lowest in the world and the cotton quality very high, making African producers potentially some of the most competitive global players.

- Cotton revenues constitute from 50-80% of the exports of Mali, Benin, Togo and Burkina Faso.

- More than 9 million people in West Africa rely on cotton for their livelihood.

If the US really wanted to help people in West Africa, it would do what groups like Action Aid are asking:

- announce the immediate elimination of all forms of trade distorting subsidies to the cotton sector

- provide not "aid" but compensation to those involved in the cotton production sectors of poor countries who have suffered as a result of its policies.

But far from offering poor countries even a modicum of redress in this area, a spokesman for the United States trade representative responded to the WTO's ruling by defending the US's $18+billion farm subsidies, saying, "We will defend US agricultural interests in every form we need to."

The US, incidentally, for all its grandstanding, spends less than one-half of 1 percent of its federal budget on aid, making it the smallest contributor of foreign aid among major donor governments in terms of national wealth (GNP).

Finally, note in the statement below the involvement of CS Prakash's Tuskegee University (Alabama, USA). Prakash is an advisor to USAID, serving as the principal investigator of a USAID funded project 'to promote biotechnology awareness in Africa', and Tuskegee receives multi-million dollar funding from USAID.

U.S. Announces Launch of West Africa Cotton Improvement Program
United States Trade Representative (Washington, DC)
November 10, 2005
Ougadougou, Burkina Faso

Today U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns and U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman announced the launch of the West Africa Cotton Improvement Program (WACIP) aimed at the cotton sectors of Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Senegal.

The program is based on an assessment conducted earlier this year by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) experts in consultation with experts from these countries on ways to improve production, transformation, and marketing of cotton in the region. The two senior government officials who made the announcement are members of U.S. President George W. Bush's cabinet.

"We are pleased to announce the allocation of $7 million -- $5 million in fresh funding -- to begin the work of this program. Because this program is a partnership between our countries, we have asked USAID to hold a conference in this region soon after the Hong Kong Ministerial to get countries' input on the final touches of the program's design," said Secretary Johanns.

"The West Africa Cotton Improvement Program is one more way the United States is specifically addressing the needs of cotton dependent countries in Africa," said Ambassador Portman. "When combined with other measures like debt relief, eligibility for Millennium Challenge Account assistance, Administration efforts to end the Step 2 cotton program, and a bold proposal on agriculture in the World Trade Organization negotiations, the United States has taken real steps that can help West Africa, including its cotton farmers."

To complement this pro


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