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

The African Centre for Biosafety* asked Devlin Kuyek, author of an important briefing on how the U.S. government uses USAID to actively promote GM agriculture**, for his comments on the U.S. announcement of the launch of its West Africa Cotton Improvement Program, complete with an accompanying USAID conference. (see )
**'USAID: Making the world hungry for GM crops'

Devlin Kuyek:

Ok. my thoughts...

GM cotton is clearly a secondary issue here, a smokescreen. The main objective is to break African solidarity on trade issues and to get these 5 [West African] countries to tone down their demands for the elimination of US ag subsidies in Hong Kong [at the WTO Ministerial conference].

The "cotton improvement" programme has already been in motion for some time now. All that they've done here is given it a name, some $ (which is probably not new $), and announced the formal collaboration of certain countries. More of another PR exercise than anything else (that's not fooling anyone), but, nevertheless, it does pull West Africa ever deeper into the charade.

Last January there was a similar meeting in Bamako between the US and these same 5 countries in which a US report on the West African cotton sector was presented (the framework for this latest initiative). The report focused on ways to improve productivity and pretty much evaded the question of US subsidies. During the meeting, the US refused to make any commitments on the issue of trade or subsidies and after the meeting, the 5 countries felt obliged to issue their own press release ("The Bamako Declaration") saying that while they appreciate some of the report's recommendations on cotton production, they were firm that the main reason for the on-going cotton crisis in their countries was US cotton dumping.

So why do these West African countries keep playing at the US game? Given their deep experience with these issues, it's impossible to imagine that they don't know what's really going on, that they've somehow been duped. Perhaps they've been told, in so many words, that this is a condition for bigger carrots, such as the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which is highlighted in the press release? To access the MCC funds, countries first have to be deemed "eligible", then they have to "negotiate"-- meaning they have to put in place the policies that the US wants, from supporting the "global war on terror" to accepting GM crops. There are also conditions for debt relief and, indeed, all forms of US aid. Is it a coincidence that the US high-level officials (Portman and Johanns) announced Burkina Faso's "eligibility" for MCC funding during this trip, just before the cotton meeting?!!

But, aside from the arm-twisting, there are elites in West Africa that are trying to further their own interests by allying themselves with the US and the GM industry-- public scientists, business people, politicians, and even some farmer leaders. Not everyone in West Africa is against the "development track" that the US is proposing, no matter how much it may compromise the interests of the average West African farmer-- as is deeply apparent in Burkina Faso.

My own suspicion is that the US actually wants to destroy much of West African cotton production by pushing onward with the privatization of the national companies and to control what's left by spreading Bt cotton. It fits together nicely with the 15 year timeline that the US has set for the elimination of its domestic subsidies. Surely this is less far-fetched than the National Cotton Council "helping" one of their main global export competitors to increase production!

I've posted two articles in French (AFP, Sidwaya) at the bottom of this email that go deeper than the US press release. Once again, the African participants are complaining that the meeting didn't address the subsidies issue! Are they really surprised by this? And then they turn around and take US money and Bt cotton. How sad to see the grassroots political momentum against US cotton subsidies and global trade imbalances potentially jeopardized!


Coton: Washington débloque 7 millions de dollars pour cinq pays africains

10-11 21:23:55 Le secrétaire d'Etat américain à l'Agriculture, Mike Johanns, a annoncé jeudi à Ouagadougou le déblocage d'une aide globale de sept millions de dollars pour "améliorer" la production cotonnière du Bénin, du Burkina Faso, du Mali, du Tchad et du Sénégal.

La capitale burkinabè accueille jusqu'à samedi une "rencontre de concertation" entre les Etats-Unis et plusieurs pays africains producteurs de coton.

La répartition de ces fonds sera décidée lors d'une conférence dans la sous-région qui sera organisée après la tenue du sommet ministériel de l'Organisation mondiale du commerce (OMC) du 13 au 18 décembre 2005 à Hong Kong, a précisé M. Johanns.

Mike Johanns a indiqué que ce programme d'aide vise à "l'amélioration de la production, la transformation et le commerce du coton" et fait suite à une évaluation menée début 2005 par des experts de l'Agence américaine pour le développement (USAID) et des pays concernés.

De leur côté, les pays africains producteurs d'"or blanc" ont exigé à nouveau la suppression des subventions à l'exportation versées par les pays riches, notamment les Etats-Unis, à leurs producteurs locaux.

Ce système de subventions fausse, selon eux, la concurrence et nuit aux filières nationales africaines.

"Cette aide américaine est loin de nous satisfaire. Il faut qu'ils s'attaquent plutôt à l'épineux problème des subventions", a estimé le président de l'Association des producteurs africains de coton (Aproca, 13 pays), François Traoré.

"Nous réitérons nos propositions visant l'élimination de toute forme de subventions à l'exportation du coton", a renchéri Salif Diallo, ministre burkinabè de l'Agriculture et porte-parole des pays africains producteurs de coton.

M. Diallo a ajouté que les pays africains producteurs de coton réclamaient également la suppression des mesures de soutien intérieures et la création d'un "Fonds international d'urgence d'appui" à la production cotonnière africaine.


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