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Locked out

Please see the end of this document for other CropChoice news items.

(Friday, Sept. 13, 2002 -- CropChoice news) --

Following this Associated Press story about black farmers' protest of discriminatory loan practices by the Department of Agriculture, please see the excerpt from last week's CropChoice commentary on the issue.

Associated Press, 09/10/2002: STAR CITY, Ark. About 50 black farmers gathered in front of a federal building to say that discrimination in loan practices persists three years after a class-action lawsuit settlement.

Some farmers whose lawsuit claims were turned down have complained that their appeals have been held up for months, and others have said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has treated them poorly.

"The lawsuit is a joke and it should never have been allowed," said Tom Burrell, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association. "It was defective and flawed and replete with examples of what would deny black farmers relief."

The federal government in 1999 settled a lawsuit over claims that the U.S. Department of Agriculture systematically discriminated against blacks applying for loans and subsidy programs.

The settlement was supposed to pay farmers $50,000 each and forgive their federal farm loans from 1983 to 1998 as compensation for years of discrimination. An estimated $2.2 billion was expected to be paid or forgiven.

Of the 21,358 claims accepted for consideration, the government approved 60 percent and paid about $615 million, according to USDA figures in July.

Burrell said the group had planned to sit inside the Farm Services Administration office in this town 60 miles southeast of Little Rock, but the federal building was locked and a sign on the front of the building said it would be closed for the day.

Fernando Burkett, executive director of the Arkansas chapter of the association, said the group would continue its protest beyond Monday.

"We want to keep on applying pressure and keep on fighting and telling these guys we're not going to leave," Burkette said.

Last week's CropChoice commentary about this issue -- 'Dig deeper than discrimination'

by Robert Schubert
CropChoice editor

(Thursday, Sept. 5, 2002 -- CropChoice commentary) -- Tom Burrell thinks it's great that more Americans now understand their government's decades-long discrimination against black farmers. After all, raising awareness is one goal of the rallies and prayer vigils he has helped to organize at Department of Agriculture offices in the South. Major media reported on a July rally at the Brownsville, Tenn. offices of the Farm Service Agency. Dan Glickman, secretary of Agriculture in the Clinton administration, admitted in 1999 that the Agency habitually denied and delayed loans to black farmers, but not to white farmers with similar finances and operations.

Burrell, who's preparing for a rally on Monday, Sept. 9th at the Farm Service Agency in Star City, Arkansas (Lincoln County), isn't satisfied. The Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association member wants people to understand that the issues go deeper and broader.

"The admission of discrimination is a misnomer," he says. "The issue is whether USDA employees, in discriminating against African American farmers, are expropriating their land, thus satisfying the wishes and desires of the heirs and descendants of the original plantation owners. That's conspiracy, not discrimination."

In towns throughout the South, plantation owners' descendants work in the local USDA offices, and have used familial connections with key local players to take land from black farmers. Their forbears' need for credit to cope with the shift from human to machine labor early in the last century enabled this massive land grab.

Burrell sees even broader implications, though. Much of the land that black -- and white -- family farmers have lost over the years became part of bigger farms. These industrial operations with only a few types of crops requiring heavy use of machinery, pesticides and now, biotechnology, form the model that the U.S. and other western governments and transnational agribusiness are pushing worldwide. The Vision 2020 plan for the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh epitomizes this: bulldoze the small, sustainable family farms -- displacing millions of people -- to make way for factory farms.

Postbellum Agriculture in the South

Following the Civil War, southern plantation owners faced financial ruin. Selling their farms was...see the full commentary at http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?recid=920