Monday, November 15, 2010

Globalism Incongruous with Fair Trade?

The Fairtrade Foundation helps to promote economic development opportunities in poor countries. It has just released a report revealing how billions of dollars in subsidies in wealthy countries prevent the world’s poorest cotton farmers from making a living.

As a result, farmers in the four biggest cotton producing countries of west Africa are losing out on vital income which would help people in rural areas and pay for roads, schools and other developments to reduce their dependence on aid, it claims.

"The current system of subsidies cannot be right and certainly is not fair. The principles of Fairtrade need to be integrated and reflected in the global trading system."

In 2005 governments agreed to end the cotton subsidies, but the deal will not come into force until the prolonged talks reach a full agreement. The next ministerial meeting has not been scheduled, but one is expected next year to mark 10 years since the talks began in the Qatar city of Doha.

For example, in the landlocked, semi-desert nation, Mali depends on cotton for its survival. Half of its export revenues come from cotton – it is the second-largest producer in Africa after Egypt – and it is estimated that more than 3.2 million Malians, 40% of the country's rural population, depend on the crop for their livelihoods.

Moussa, who started growing cotton 17 years ago, farms two hectares of land, which yield 500-800 kilos a year. Yet despite the quantity and quality of cotton he produces, he is barely able to feed his children.

"Sometimes, the young ones cry because they're so hungry," he says, his face impassive. "I become very angry when I'm not able to get enough food for my family. All the time, I feel sad." Last month, two of his youngest children contracted malaria and his three-year-old son almost died because Moussa couldn't afford to buy medicine. "That made me very afraid. It makes me feel ashamed because I am the chief of the family but I am not able to protect them. In our culture, this is unacceptable."

As nations extol the virtues of globalism, it seems wealthier countries need to be more sensitive to the hurdles faced by emerging economies.