The WTO Destroys Farmers and the Environment
Freedom to Trade or Freedom from Hunger?
Food Aid or Food Sovereignty?

December 19, 2005

The WTO Destroys Farms,
Jobs and the Environment

by Anuradha Mittal / The Oakland Institute

WTO protestors mass in Hong Hong and encounter a plastic wall of well-armed security police. Credit:
HONG KONG (December 14, 2005) -- Pascal Lamy acknowledged at the opening ceremony of the WTO Sixth Ministerial on December 13, "the crowds in and certainly outside this building will remind you with sound and sometimes fury that the WTO is not the most popular international organization around, to say the least."

What Lamy did not explain is why WTO has failed to win favor with the world's majority.

Speeches of the top officials at the opening ceremony, punctuated by the word "development," were attempts at poor-washing an organization that has failed to deliver on its promises of increased economic growth and alleviation of poverty. A recent World Bank study found that even a very successful Doha Round which could yield $287 billion by 2015, would in reality provide very limited possible gains for developing countries -- less than three-tenths of 1 percent and possibly even much smaller. This is about 2 cents a day per person for developing countries.

In addition, while vast majority of possibly gains would accrue to rich countries, the Middle East, Bangladesh, much of Africa, and Mexico would be net losers.

Not surprisingly then, Lamy's speech was interrupted by over 40 NGO representatives. Chanting "WTO's Failed: Alternatives Now," and "Stand by Your People: End Doha Round," protestors unfurled a banner which said, "No Deal is Better than a Bad Deal." Others held placards "WTO Kills Farmers," "WTO Destroys Jobs," and "WTO Destroys Environment."

Outside in the streets thousands of farmers, including 2000 farmers from South Korea, trade unionists, migrant workers, immigrant rights and women's rights groups, among others, were marching to protest the undemocratic nature of the organization which is trading away their families, communities and basic human rights.

While two ships filled with fisherfolk sailed in the harbor with the banner, "Our World is Not for Sale" more than two hundred Korean farmers, members of the Korean Peasant League (KPL), jumped into the cold water of Hong Kong harbor in their attempt to reach the Convention Center and have their voices heard at the Ministerial. Park Ha-Soon, General Secretary of KPL said, "We will keep doing this kind of desperate action because our voices are not being heard by the negotiators. We do not want free trade, we do not need it. WTO free trade policies support agribusiness and kill small producers... We are sinking into debt and losing our land and livelihood."

According to the G20 declaration issued yesterday morning, agriculture remains the central issue of the Doha Round. The declaration read, “A development round requires the removal of distortions in international agricultural trade rules. The largest structural distortion in international trade occurs in agriculture through the combination of high tariffs, domestic support and export subsidies that protect inefficient farmers in developed countries."

At the G20 press conference, Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath emphasized special products (SP) and special safeguard mechanism (SSM) as integral parts of the agricultural package that lie in the livelihood needs and rights of developing countries and therefore cannot be negotiated in exchange of anything. "We have not come to Hong Kong to perpetuate the inequalities," he said.

Anuradha Mittal is director of the Oakland Institute (, a policy think tank on critical economic and social issues.

Freedom to Trade or Freedom from Hunger?

Anuradha Mittal / The Oakland Institute

(December 12, 2005) -- Trade talks for the sixth World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong this week are deadlocked on several issues, including agriculture. Ambitions for resolving these quarrels have been scaled down, and we might see a scenario similar to the 2003 meeting in Cancun, where the talks collapsed amid widespread civil unrest and a walkout staged by Third World country delegates.

The problem is not the inability to resolve differences among the WTO country members, but the model of development that the WTO promotes.

New rules governing agriculture, the one area where developing countries might compete head-on with the industrialized nations, was the carrot offered to the developing world to join the WTO. But the reality is that in its 10-year history, the WTO has protected the interests of the politically influential corporate agriculture in rich countries such as the United States at the expense of millions of poor farmers across the Third World, who have seen their livelihoods ravaged under the free-trade regime.

Pressured by the international financial institutions, the poor countries have removed policies that favor local and small producers, replaced food self-sufficiency with trade in commodities and lowered tariff charges on foreign imports, while the United States and the European Union, their subsidies intact, dump cheap subsidized food onto developing nations. In effect, the WTO is Robin Hood in reverse: robbing the world's poor to enrich American and European agribusiness.

One contentious area in agricultural talks is US food aid, which is being challenged by WTO member countries as a form of subsidy to US agribusiness. Initiated in 1954, US food aid continues to be driven by the motive of disposing of large surpluses of cereals and capturing new markets. Those who profit from food aid are US agribusiness and shipping companies. For example, Horizon Milling, a joint venture of Cargill Inc. and CHS Inc., has sold $1.09 billion worth of grain for food-aid operations to the federal government since 1995. The second player, the shipping industry, is supported by the 1985 Farm Bill, which requires that at least 75 percent of US food aid be shipped by US. vessels.

Preference given to food produced in the United States and to the US shipping industry makes US food aid the most expensive in the world and, on average, delays delivery of emergency food aid by nearly five months. Recognizing this, the EU procures a major share of its food aid - 90 percent in 2004 -- in developing countries. Canada increased local and regional purchases from 10 percent to 50 percent this September. But the United States still avoids local and regional purchases.

Starting next year, the White House and the US Agency for International Development have proposed to spend one-quarter of its food-aid budget to buy food grown by local or regional producers. But House and Senate leaders have rejected this recommendation. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, warns bluntly that buying food aid overseas would erode congressional support for famine-fighting programs.

US food aid needs drastic changes. According to a new report from the Oakland Institute, the replacement of food aid produced by US agribusiness with local purchases would double the amount of food available. What's more, local purchases must prioritize procurement from small-scale farmers, whose livelihoods have been directly affected by dumping cheap food as aid. Local purchases eventually benefit local agriculture and reduce the need for food aid in the long run. In addition, more, not less, aid for rural development, which has been cut by half in the past two decades, from $5.14 billion to $2.22 billion, is necessary.

The solution to hunger and poverty in Third- World countries however is not the WTO corporate-driven agenda. A true development agenda would promote food sovereignty of Third World countries. This would require strong national agricultural policies that recognize farmers' rights to seeds, water, land and support for the production of staple food rather than cash crops. Instead of dismantling grain-marketing boards, these institutions would be strengthened for protecting prices and domestic markets for small farmers and managing national food stocks to mitigate the effects of the fluctuations of national food production on producers and consumers.

While the specter of mass starvation continues to haunt Niger, Malawi and other developing nations, trade negotiators in Hong Kong face some simple questions: Do we want freedom from hunger or freedom to trade? Do we want a world ruled by grain companies Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, or do we want strong Third World nations proud of their ability to feed their people?

Food Aid or Food Sovereignty?
Famine in Niger Reinforces
The Need for Drastic Changes in Food Aid

The Oakland Institute

In light of the current famine in Niger, the Oakland Institute’s new report, Food Aid or Food Sovereignty? Ending World Hunger in Our Time, calls for drastic changes in the international food aid system to make it more effective at preventing large-scale hunger emergencies and recommends food sovereignty as the policy tool to achieve food self-sufficiency.

In a dramatic departure from prevailing thought about international food aid programs, the report advocates that such programs shift their focus from dumping products on developing countries to helping build local agricultural infrastructure and supporting small-scale farmers.

“It is shameful that foreign policy and trade motives drive current food aid programs at the expense of those in developing countries,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute. “Examples from famine situations around the world show that policies that emphasize helping countries develop their own agriculture actually feed more people and decrease developing countries’ dependence on aid programs in the long run.”

“World hunger is not caused by a shortage of food production in the developing world," says Frederic Mousseau, Oakland Institute’s Senior Fellow. “Most countries that experience the type of famine that we now see in Niger export a large portion of their agricultural produce. This phenomenon in Niger has compounded the food deficit, causing high inflation and widespread hunger. Famine in Niger is a result of poverty among certain sections of the population who are unable to cope with price increases brought on by market deregulation and speculation.” Today food aid is being distributed to those who are too poor to buy food in the open market in Niger.

Food Aid or Food Sovereignty? evaluates current food aid programs, their response to food crisis situations, and the role that international relief agencies play in the fight against hunger. On the basis of this analysis, the report proposes specific steps to drastically change the current food aid system to combat world hunger more effectively. These include:

1) Support for small farmers through strong agricultural policies including land redistribution.

2) Support for the production of staple food rather than cash crops.

3) Protection of prices and markets

4) Better management of national food stocks

Chronic hunger affects an estimated 852 million people worldwide, killing as many as 30 to 50 million people each year. The victims of starvation include the approximately 6.5 million children who die from hunger and its related causes each year--one every five seconds.

To obtain a copy of the report, click here

The Oakland Institute is dedicated to creating a space for public participation and democratic debate on key social and economic policy issues that affect our lives. By becoming a member of The Oakland Institute, you are building the foundation for a democratic and peaceful future. The Oakland Institute, P.O. Box 18978, Oakland, CA 94619

Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director, (510) 469-5228;
Megan Garcia, Communications Director, (617) 501-2888;

For more information contact:

Home | Background | News | Links | Donate | Contact Us |

(510) THE-EDGE (843-3343)
E-mail us at