AFRICAN COTTON MUST PAY
The US and EU have lavished $31.34bn on their cotton farmers, reducing demand for West African cotton.
COTTON IS THE most used natural fibre in the world and should be the “white gold” that propels 10 million West African farmers out of poverty. After all, the West African nations of Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, known as the Cotton-4 or C-4, produce the cheapest cotton in the world. But, as recently revealed in a major report from the Fairtrade Foundation, the West African cotton industry is blocked by a wall of free cash dished out by the United States and European Union to their farmers.
The US and EU have lavished $31.45bn over the past nine years on their cotton farmers, dampening down global cotton prices, reducing demand for West African cotton and restricting the region’s ability to export its way out of poverty. Lost income to West African cotton-producing nations through the price dampening effect of subsidies is estimated at $250 million a year.
The Fairtrade Foundation is currently running a campaign – which will be highlighted during Fairtrade Fortnight 2011 (from February 28 to March 13) – demanding the ending of EU trade distorting cotton subsidies. If successful, this would isolate the US, which dishes out $24.25bn to just 3,500 farms.
Daouda Samake, a farmer and member of the Mobiom Fairtrade cotton- growing co-operative in Southern Mali, said: “Cotton is our only income, but Mali cotton farmers are hardly able to cover their living costs. They’ve got a lot of debts and so people are walking away from cotton. That makes me really angry. If it was you, what would you think? The economy of the country suffers. It’s the main export for Mali and the state does not have funds to pay for healthcare and education.”
Harriet Lamb, executive director of the Fairtrade Foundation, said: “In Mali, we’re working with one co-operative of 8,000 members who have been able to earn 50 per cent more by producing and selling organic Fairtrade cotton. As a result, 95 per cent of their children are enrolled in school compared with a national average of 43 per cent. This is the difference Fairtrade can make.”
African producers, in cotton and in many other industries too, are working alongside campaigners for change. Toby Quantrill, head of policy for the Fairtrade Foundation, attended the first Fairtrade Africa Forum in December last year, when members of the Fairtrade movement in Africa, including producers, policy makers, development partners and campaigners, gathered in Zimbabwe for four days of discussion on the best way to develop the
Fairtrade system in Africa.
The forum marked the end of a year of great progress in the development of Fairtrade Africa. With support from Fairtrade organisations in Europe and donors such as Comic Relief, Fairtrade
Africa has built a strong team, with regional bases in West, South and Eastern Africa, and is now playing an increasingly influential role in the global development of Fairtrade. For example, Fairtrade Africa has led the development of standards for two new products (Marula, used in the cosmetics industry, and Baobab) in response to requests from producers and has also developed strategic relationships with other organisations such as VSO and a Dutch development agency to help provide increasing on-the-ground support to producers.
Producers are determined to make Fairtrade in Africa an African system, led and owned by Africans, in terms of standards, new products and, perhaps most importantly making this a movement of both producers and consumers in Africa.
In South Africa there are 15 Fairtrade-labelled products on the shelf (most of these launched in the last year), and shoppers in Kenya can buy Fairtrade African coffee.
Helen Riley is a media officer for the Fairtrade Foundationwww.fairtrade.org.uk/cotton
Reproduced with kind permission from ‘Reform’ the magazine of The United Reformed Church February 2011