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Iowa farmer attends Brazilian seminar on family farm agriculture and trade

(Thursday, Sept. 4, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- George Naylor, Churdan, Iowa, farmer and president of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), recently returned from an international seminar held August 20-22 in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, entitled Family Farm Agriculture and Trade Negotiations. His invitation from the Minister of Agrarian Development, Miguel Rossetto, stated, "It is time for a process of dialogue, elaboration and common action to take place between governments and civil societies in order to represent the interests of these [family farm] communities in international trade negotiations." The meeting was held in anticipation of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Cancun, Mexico, in September, and Free Trade Agreement of the Americaís (FTAA) talks in Miami in November.

"This was an unusual opportunity for representatives of governments of Latin America, Asia, and Africa to join with rural and family farm organizations to look at farm and trade policies that favor family farms rather than the typical policies that favor only the giant meat packers and grain exporters," stated Naylor. "Just like the farmer meetings in Mexico and Guatemala I attended this last year to explain how the U.S. farm bill works, I was amazed at how similar the problems and concerns were to the farmers in NFFC member groups like Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI)." Cheap grain and the industrialization of livestock production stir consternation around the world according to Naylor.

Because of free trade agreements like NAFTA and WTO, other countries have been lowering their tariffs but now feel it is hypocritical for the United States to spend twenty to thirty billion dollars a year to subsidize its farm sector. "What I explain is that getting rid of government payments would not change U.S. farm production and would only get rid of family farmers in the U.S. faster. The subsidies keep the U.S. farm system from collapsing, thatís for sure, but the low prices are the result of the Freedom to Farm Bill and the 2002 Farm Bill that eliminated the non-recourse loan price support, food reserves, and set-asides. U.S. farmers have no choice but to plant fencerow-to-fencerow and dump their production on the market no matter how low prices go," states Naylor. "That works for the meat packers and grain exporters, but hurts third word farmers and the U.S. taxpayer. It would be much better to have a farm program that made sure the big corporations paid the fair price for grain in the first place."

Farm organizations in other countries usually donít have the theory like so many U.S. organizations that "farming is just like any other business," and that the economic interests of the big meat packers and grain exporters is the same as family farmers and rural communities reports Naylor. "Unfortunately, farmers in other countries often think the U.S. government, Cargill, ADM, Smithfield, etc. and U.S. farmers speak with the same voice," laments Naylor.

Many governments, but the new government of Brazil in particular, are realizing that rural prosperity and national prosperity depend on a healthy family farm sector which is under attack by the current "free trade" talks and the U.S. farm bill. "Many countries are "underdeveloped" because much of their land is already in the hands of a few, while subsistence wages of farm workers create very little economic activity." Without the encouragement of family farm agriculture and improved farm prices, rural poverty will increase and more displaced farmers and workers will emigrate to large cities in their countries or the United States in desperation. Naylor visited a "settlement" where members of the "landless workers movement" are trying to reverse the trend by using their constitutional rights to homestead on land that was not being used by a giant land owner." The people on the settlement told of how many of them lost their farms in the 1980ís and hated living on the outskirts of large. "The new expansion of soybean production in Brazil was one thing I wanted to find out more about," states Naylor. He talked to a high official in the Ministry of Foreign Relations that said that the new government was very concerned about it. "He told me that despite projections of this trend being a "done deal," that was not the case," according to Naylor. The government along with the support of the people of Brazil could well put the brakes on the expansion because of the destruction of that ecosystem and the indigenous tribes near the area. "I told him it didnít make sense for any of our countries to allow more production which could drive down the price of every other bushel we produce and export. ĎHow could that be good for our economies?' I asked."

At the close of the conference, the various representatives of the various governments and the rural and family farm organizations passed resolutions to make new commitments to policies supporting family farm agriculture and to strengthen the voice of family farmers in trade talks like NAFTA and FTAA.

Naylor will be attending an International Farmers Forum in Cancun on September 8-10 joining with family farmer and peasant groups from around the world as a delegate to the Via Campesina meetings. He will attend the WTO ministerial in Cancun, Mexico, September 10-14 as a registered NGO, to bring the message with other family farm groups that the United States needs new farm and trade policy aimed at raising the level of farm commodity prices that will benefit family farmers and their communities globally.

Naylor says he would look forward to speaking to groups about his experiences in Brazil and Mexico and discussing various policy options that support family farms and rural communities.

He can be reached at 515-544-3464.