US Farm Subsidies Endanger Africa: New Campaign
US farm subsidies exist to protect American farmers from the low prices that competition brings, and they have been a political hot potato in US domestic politics for many years. But in parts of Africa, U.S. farm support policies draw ire, dread, and outrage. Now a group of women parliamentarians has announced a massive publicity campaign to get the word out to American farmers and the voting public in general.
The first Women Parliamentarian's International Conference, held in Kigali, featured a call for the new campaign from Valentine Ruwabiza, the Deputy General of the WTO. She claims that while U.S. farmers constitute only 5% of the population, they have the influence of a much larger constituency. Ruwabiza joins a host of NGOs in attributing widespread misery to the subsidies.
British Charity Oxfam, which used graphic illustrations of the suffering caused by the subsidies, pointed out, for example, that America’s cotton farmers receive subsidies amounting to more than the gross domestic product of Burkina Faso (BBC Profile) , where two million people depend on cotton production.
The public relations campaign will start with targeting messages and outreach efforts to American farm groups, a strategy clearly in line with the idea that widespread ignorance of the ill effects of the funds is partly to blame for their yearly renewal. There is some evidence that this initial approach can change minds, according to this well-written piece by Katie Danko:
Terry Steinhour and his wife Phyllis farm about 650 acres in
Springfield, Illinois, the heart of corn-producing country. The
Steinhours’ are well-respected in their central Illinois community, and
Terry is active with his church and the Illinois Farm Bureau. During
the last six months, Terry has also been involved and vocal about
reforming US farm policy. “It should address the needs of family
farmers, not industrial-sized farms,” he said
Clearly, Mr. Steinhour makes a distinction between small farms and larger holdings. With strong advocates for change among family farmers, the US public will be better able to differentiate among the views of small farmers, which probably will have strong popular support, and agribusiness, equipped with armies of lobbyists and treasure chests of cash.