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Family Farmers From Mid-Missouri And Mexico
Hold Fair Trade Picnic And Roundtable

Propose International and Local Solutions to Challenges Faced by
Family Farmers Around the World

Bryce Oates

Columbia, Missouri

Mid-Missouri farmland.
Mid-Missouri farmland. Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke.
The Missouri Rural Crisis Center (MRCC) hosted Mexican farmers on Thursday, July 10th, to discuss the impacts of current farm and trade policy on family farmers and rural communities, and to propose solutions that will address their joint concerns. As a result of corporate-managed “free trade” agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and failed U.S. farm policy, both Missouri and Mexican farmers are experiencing low grain and livestock prices, increasing corporate concentration and declining rural economies. While discussing the impacts of NAFTA in their communities, participants showcased community-based solutions like MRCC’s Patchwork Family Farms project-Mid-Missouri's source for sustainably-raised family farm pork.

Farmers and rural Missourians came together at noon at the MRCC for a cultural exchange, roundtable discussion and picnic featuring Missouri family farm products. The public was invited.

"There's the same winners and losers on both sides of the border-farmers and rural communities losing out while corporate agribusiness cashes in,” said Howard County farmer and Missouri Rural Crisis Center Program Director Rhonda Perry. “NAFTA might be a great thing for the grain-traders and meatpackers, but farmers and consumers are paying the price to underwrite their huge profits.”

As part of the farmer and farmworker movement, "The Countryside Can’t Take It Anymore,” the Mexican farmers are touring the Midwest to talk with U.S. farmers about mutual efforts to impact international farm and trade policies. The goal of the tour is to help farmers and rural communities understand how the current pro-free trade policies of our government actually increase poverty, instability and migration, especially within the agriculture sector.

Missouri farmer Rhonda Perry feedings the hogs.
Missouri farmer Rhonda Perry feedings the hogs. Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke.
"The NAFTA trade model has failed Missouri family farmers and ranchers, and has helped fuel the economic devastation of rural America,” said Livingston County farmer and MRCC President Bill Christison. “We need a farm bill that pays farmers a fair price, creates a farmer-owned reserve, curtails corporate concentration and provides incentives for the enhancement of local food systems. That’s a plan that family farmers and rural communities can get excited about.”MRCC and other farm groups support fair trade and agricultural policies that could reverse the severe rural depression inflicted throughout the continent:

Allow countries to prioritize sustaining family farms and global food security.

  • Vigorous enforcement of antitrust laws at the local, regional, national and international levels to guarantee competitive markets for family farmers and strengthening these laws where necessary.
  • Allow countries to establish domestic and global reserves, manage supply, enforce anti-dumping laws, and ensure fair market prices.
  • Allow countries to ensure the production and distribution of a safe, affordable, and abundant food supply to meet their domestic needs and achieve food security.

"For the Mexican organizations of farmers and peasants that make up The Countryside Can’t Take Anymore movement, it is crucial to carry out this tour in the U.S.,” stated tour participant Emilio Lopez, an economist specializing in agriculture and rural sociology. “The reasons are obvious: the farmer’s movement in Mexico which includes the majority of Mexican farmers, have been seriously impacted by NAFTA. NAFTA and free trade are a silent war on farmers and rural communities in Mexico and in the United States.”

Along with the policy discussions, participants toured Missouri family farms, sampled Missouri’s family farm products, and were presented with piñatas depicting farm scenes created by student-artists involved with the CARE Gallery (Columbia’s Art Related Experience).

The tour is being sponsored by the National Family Farm Coalition and its member groups in seven states: Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. MRCC is the Missouri member of the National Family Farm Coalition.

Are U.S. farmers going to export their way to prosperity?
Or have farmers been sold a bill of “free trade” goods?

-- Selected Facts and Figures on Trade and Agriculture --

Since NAFTA was put into place in 1994, the overall U.S. agricultural trade surplus has declined from $22.5 billion per year to $12 billion, a 47% decrease.

  • 82% of U.S. corn exports are controlled by 3 agribusiness firms.

  • During the first 7 years of NAFTA, Archer Daniels Midland’s profits went from $110 million to $301 million, while Cargill’s net earnings from 1998 to 2002 jumped from $468 million to $827 million. ADM and Cargill are two of the main agribusinesses that control the corn trade.

  • Despite the promises made before NAFTA regarding benefits farmers would see from free trade, according to the secretary of Social Development in Mexico, there are now more poor people than ever before in history. In 1992, 36% of the rural population was “food insecure”. Today that number has risen to 52.4%.

  • Since 1984, the real price of food has remained constant, while the price farmers receive has fallen by 38%. In 1999, farmers received 21 cents on the dollar from food products, as compared to 10 years ago, when they received 32 cents. These numbers demonstrate how consumers, taxpayers and especially farmers are paying the price so that agribusiness can earn record profits.

  • Since NAFTA was put into place in 1994, U.S. corn exports have decreased by 10.4 million metric tons, an 18% decrease.

  • Since NAFTA was put into place in 1994, the U.S. has become a net importer of beef. U.S. beef imports have climbed from 2.1 million live animals to 3.2 million per year, a 52% increase.

  • Even the shining star example of increasing exports “the pork industry” demonstrates that focusing on exports does not translate into benefits to family farmers. Since 1993 pork exports have climbed dramatically, yet the number of hog farmers has declined from 218,060 to 75,350 today, a whopping 65% of hog farmers driven out of raising hogs. During the same period, consumer prices were up 35% and the farmer's share of every consumer dollar was down 38%.

  • As a result of U.S. farm and trade policy, the average price of the 8 largest U.S. crops from 1999-2001 was 20% below the average price for the 1985-1995 period.

  • In the last decade government payments to farmer have more than tripled reaching nearly $25 billion per year. These measures have been necessary to keep farm income from further decline as a result of bad U.S. farm policy. 60% of net U.S. farm income now comes from the government.

International Impacts of “Free Trade”

  • Since the signing of NAFTA, migration from rural areas has skyrocketed. Today 270,000 Mexicans per year migrate to urban areas or to the U.S. in search of employment.

  • More than 80% of Mexico's poor live in the countryside, 2 million of those being corn producers. Before NAFTA, Mexico only imported about 2.5 million tons of corn per year. In 2001, they imported over 6 million tons of corn. For every 10 tons of corn exported to Mexico, an average of 2 rural residents migrate to the U.S.

  • Between 1996 and 2001, the number of family farms in Canada fell by 11% due to government policies that support corporate agriculture, not family farms.

  • When adjusted for inflation, net farm income in Canada has fallen by 24% between 1988 (1 year prior to the Canad -U.S. free trade agreement) and 2002.

Also read:

Published in In Motion Magazine, July 12, 2003.

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