Friday, 25 July 2008

African cotton farmers hope for trade breakthrough

OUAGADOUGOU: While besuited government officials slug it out at world trade talks in Geneva this week, African peasant farmers watching their cotton plants grow hope any deal will allow them to farm their way out of poverty.Subsidies that encourage farmers to grow more cotton in rich countries like the United States are blamed for flooding the market and depressing world prices in recent years, making it harder for poor farmers in Africa to make ends meet."It is the growers at the bottom who suffer," said Seydou Ouedraogo, who grows cotton near Leo, some 200 km (125 miles) south of Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou."We just want to be treated equally. It is our only source of income, and only cotton can lift us out of poverty. This is unfair competition," Ouedraogo said.At this time of year, the cotton plants here are still small, standing 20-30 cm (1-foot) tall. Their broad green leaves standing out against the rich, dark earth which has soaked up the seasonal rains of the past couple of months.
Burkina Faso, West Africa's top cotton producer, is a leading member of the Cotton-4, or "C-4" group, which has pressed World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiators to include extra restrictions on cotton subsidies in any final trade deal.The group, which also includes Mali, Benin and Chad, has had some success. Negotiators in Geneva are discussing a draft that would cut U.S. cotton subsidies by 82.2 percent -- more than the 60 percent cut proposed for other similar farm subsidies.Washington has paid out $2 billion (1 billion pounds) to $4 billion a year in subsidies in recent years to the 25,000 U.S. cotton farmers who export 80 percent of their output and account for 40 percent of cotton traded internationally around the world.

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