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Pesticide Action Network: 'WTO agriculture agreement harms small farmers'

(April 10, 2002 CropChoice news) -- Seven years after the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), one of the World Organization (WTO) trade and investment pacts governing the global economy, small farmers are not experiencing the prosperity promised by agreement's proponents. This is the conclusion of a new seven-country study conducted by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) and its grassroots and NGO partners.

"These were empty promises, and for millions of small farmers and peasants, especially women, the result has been the entrenchment of poverty, destruction of livelihoods, increased burdens, and for many it has literally meant empty stomachs," said PAN AP Executive Director Sarojeni Rengam, speaking on March 8, International Women's Day. Rengam added, "It is very clear that agricultural trade liberalization has indeed harmed small farmers and impoverished the poor further, making them more food insecure."

The study, resulting in the report and resource guide "Empty Promises...Empty Stomachs--Impact of the Agreement on Agriculture and Trade Liberalization on Food Security," examined cases in Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, India, and Pakistan. Most of the cases focus on a single crop important to the area (for example, rice, potato or cassava).

PAN AP and its partners released the report on International Women's Day to raise awareness of impacts on women in particular. Rengam emphasized that "Women are the worst hit by the process of liberalization. As a farmer, she faces loss of livelihood as subsidized imported food products are dumped into the country. She is working longer and harder, and is increasingly exposed to hazardous pesticides. The cost of food production has increased due to costlier inputs. All these factors are intensifying rural women's impoverishment, displacement and hunger."

During trade negotiations, proponents claimed that the AoA would provide greater access to world markets for agricultural products of all countries by reducing tariffs and other trade barriers, and eliminating farming subsidies (excepting food-importing, least developed countries). However, according to the report, manipulation by food-exporting developed countries to retain high tariffs and subsidies has flooded developing countries with cheap food exports. Unable to face this unfair competition, small and subsistence farmers have suffered from depressed prices and high costs of production. This has resulted in loss of income, displacement and loss of land and increased bankruptcies.

The study includes these conclusions:

In Thailand, small soybean and cassava farmers have come under heavy pressure from cheap imports of soybean and export barriers to and development of alternative sources of cassava in Western markets. Small farmers are forced to work harder and also face greater health risks from increased use of chemicals in efforts to increase production.

In Indonesia, farming credits were planned as a safety net to help those affected by falling rice prices, but their implementation was ineffective.

The Korean case study found that with falling prices and rising costs of production, farming household incomes have stagnated, and farmers are forced to take up additional work or to migrate. This has put an enormous burden on women farmers, who are also saddled with a majority share of household work.

In ten villages studied in South India, there has been an increasing shift to cash crops at the expense of food crops. This has decreased food production and led to higher food prices, lower employment, lower income and consequently lower food consumption among marginal farmers and landless women workers.

In Pakistan, privatization policies have increased the cost of agricultural production, leaving an "increasing number of people without access to land and no other skills except tilling land." The most vulnerable group impacted is women, as loss of land takes away their capacity to provide food for their families and increases dependence on men. The study was carried out by the following organizations: Rural Reconstruction Alumni and Friends Association (RRAFA), Thailand; Asian Indigenous Women's Network (AIWN), Philippines; International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID), Indonesia; Education and Research Association for Consumers (ERA), Malaysia; Citizens Alliance for Consumer Protection Korea (CACPK), South Korea; Society for Rural Education and Development (SRED), India; and ROOTS for Equity, Pakistan. Source: Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific
Contact: Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific
(604) 657-0271
http://www.poptel.org.uk/panap http://www.panna.org