The US press didn’t pay too much attention to this, but Congress authorized President Bush’s decision to comply with a WTO ruling (instigated by Brazil) that mandates the elimination of major subsidies to US cotton producers. Before I get into how much this will benefit the world’s poor at the expense of only a few rich agribusiness companies, let me note that this is the first and possibly the last time you will seem me praising Congress, Bush and/or the WTO (oh my!). To approve of them all at one time is just crazy talk.
Why is the elimination of cotton subsidies a good thing? Well, the US government is always clamoring for greater “free trade”, as it describes it. It says that the world economy is better off if all countries reduce subsidies and tariffs. One of the many problems with this argument is that the US has simply not been following its own advice. It bullies other countries into opening up their markets through the WTO while keeping its own domestic subsidies. The result is farmers in poor nations cannot grow crops because subsidized versions from the US (and/or Europe and/or Japan) are cheaper to buy than locally grown crops. As Oxfam notes, Cotton is a perfect example of this. So the local economy tanks and US farmers win. TIME magazine points out the irony that the money we give out as aid to West African cotton producers is often equivalent to the damage we do to their economy:
“…annual losses in export earnings in most West African cotton-producing countries are comparable to U.S. aid donations. Burkina Faso, for instance, received $10 million in U.S. aid in 2002 but lost an estimated $13.7 million in exports because of U.S. cotton subsidies”
So US farmers are benefitting at the expense of poor farmers in the global south. But the “US farmers” are not who we think they are; they tend to be a less cuddly group. I love the idea of helping family farms, but when 61% of the total cotton subsidies (in 2004) go to the top ten producers, it doesn’t strike me as very equitable.
By eliminating major cotton subsidies, the US will allow poor countries to work their way out of poverty. Aid can only go so far; people need to be able to fend for themselves. By stopping the flow of subsidized cotton to the global south, we are giving poor farmers a chance to help themselves and their communities. Way to go Bush/Congress/WTO. Relish in my praise, it is pretty rare.
Kenya has been suffering through food shortages much to the detriment of their poorest citizens. A woman from New Zealand who owns a dog food company decided to donate 160 tons of dehydrated dog food to feed starving Kenyan children. Naturally, this came off as “culturally insulting” to Kenyan politicians, who do not like to think of their citizens as being equal to dogs in other countries. Lo and behold, hungry Kenyans do not share their government’s disgust:
“Parents of some of the children said leaders opposed to the offer were only after satisfying their personal egos at the expense of starving millions in the country.”
Only people with enough to eat complain about the quality of food. If faced with starvation I’d eat dog food or anything else to stay alive. I think that the woman could have been more sensitive by donating the proceeds from the sale of 42 tons of dog food and gotten much less negative attention. Regardless, I don’t think the Kenyan government can complain about the quality of aid foreigners are bringing in as long as they are frittering away $6 million on 57 Mercedes Benz cars ($105,263.17 each) for governement officials.
The BBC hit the nail on the head today. The article discusses how African countries become mired in situations that require food aid, and that drought is often not a primary cause. While I highly recommend reading the entire article, for you lazies here is the four main causes of famine:
“- Decades of underinvestment in rural areas, which have little political clout.
– Wars and political conflict, leading to refugees and instability.
– HIV/Aids depriving families of their most productive labour.
– Unchecked population growth.”
I couldn’t find much commentary in the blogosphere about this article, but Skeptacles made an excellent point about how the BBC downplays the voices that point to agricultural policies of the global north that perpetuate African poverty. The article is excellent through and through, so check it out.
On Tuesday I went to the Netsquared NetTuesday event. I’m not sure about the spaces and capitalization with these, but I’ll just roll with it.
Netsquared in their own words:
“Today, we recognize a turning point in nonprofit technology adoption. Through the immense possibilities of the Internet, nonprofits can turn hundreds of supporters into thousands, access new reserves of volunteerism, and give their constituencies tools to take charge of change.
This site is the online home of our effort to highlight projects around the world that succeed at the intersection of pervasive access, new tools, and new audiences.”
I hope to really dig in and learn how to better utilize tagging, RSS and other web 2.0ish things that I keep hearing about and can only semi-intelligently talk about. But for anyone out there who is interested in how these emerging technologies can help nonprofits expand their message and tap into widespread grassroots networks might want to give them a shot.
At NetTuesday (it happens on the second tuesday of each month) I met some interesting people who have had a lot of experiences at nonprofits, for-profit companies that do cool stuff and just cool people in general. They also had a huge platter of these mini-quiches that weren’t very good but just tractor-beamed me into eating them. Everyone there seemed to already know each other, so it seemed a lot easier to hang out with my trusty friend Food than to mingle. But I left Mr. Food to go hang out, and got a lot more out of the evening.
One of the things that struck me most was how the folks I talked to there admitted that they didn’t know any of the answers. They just seem to be trying like all the rest of us to make sense of it all. I think that the geek world makes a habit of using intimidating and confusing language that scares off normal folks who don’t inherently know what “CMS” stands for. Netsquared attempts to make complex concepts like Web 2.0 and RSS (simple my ass) understandable for the people who are actively working to change the world. We need more groups like them, and I highly encourage anyone to poke around their site.