Sometimes is takes a simple tale to understand the most complex problems.
If there is one subject in the field of international politics that seems difficult today, even impossible to solve, it is the WTO negotiations.
Some claim that the liberalization of international agricultural exchanges will enable the poorest to become less poor tomorrow while others assert the contrary.
Beyond ideological parables, how can we separate the wheat from the chaff? How can we fight against a doctrine, since we have no alternative theory, that seems to be accepted by the majority as the most certain road to well-being?
It’s because we believe that globalization does not have only negative points that we are determined to fight against the chaff.
And evoking reality still seems to be the best way to touch the hearts and open the eyes of men.
This is how Ndiobo Diène, permanent secretary of the Dakar Agriculture Forum, whose raison d’être is the fight against the world agricultural divide, recently explained to a WTO representative why the purchase by his country, Senegal, of rice from Thailand at a much more competitive price than domestic rice is slowly, but surely, suffocating the population.
“Senegal has around 240,000 hectares of irrigable land. This land, located in the north, is highly fertile because it is situated on the banks of a river for 1,700 km. The rice produced there is of very high quality and has one of the world’s highest yields with more than 5 tons per hectare. And yet, only one third of this area is cultivated today.
Indeed, our two main assets, which are the land and the climate, are not sufficient to enable our agriculture, which is not highly mechanized, to compete against Thai rice production.
Because of insufficiently regulated liberalization of agricultural exchanges, local production has rapidly become impossible to sell because it is more expensive than imported production.
The Senegalese countryside has become deserted over the years in spite of its natural assets.
The agricultural potential of Senegal has become sterile and the land is now fallow. The men, since they could no longer earn a living from agriculture, moved to our cities, at first, and then, because they couldn’t find work and a future, left for Europe, Barcelona or Paris”
So, you may say, how is this story, which everyone is familiar with, linked to the international negotiations of the WTO?
“I’ll answer by giving you just one figure, the number of mosques per km2 which, in this region along the banks of the river, has multiplied at an incredible rate”
Yes, but what has that got to do with the negotiations?
“These men who escaped death during their voyage across the Atlantic to Europe found only coldness, misery and solitude.
Too proud and too ashamed to admit defeat, all they have left is the dream of an Afterlife that resembles the paradise they could not find on Earth! And this paradise can be theirs if they invest their few hard-earned euros in the construction of a mosque, a more certain path to heaven than the farming of rice, which is still more expensive than rice imported from Thailand!
And this is how the land along the Senegal River has become overgrown with mosques instead of being cultivated.
Should we therefore approve the disappearance of farms in our country, and the misfortune of a people, in the name of a theory, Ricardo’s theory, that is so simplistic and divorced from reality?
No, you say! And yet, the WTO forbids, in the name of this theory, our government from supporting our own farmers and helping them mechanize their tools in order to sell their crops at a competitive price on the local market! And in the name of what?
In the name of the colored boxes in which the WTO has classified authorized support and forbidden support. And even more so, in the name of the so-called gains in well-being that our people would benefit from by accepting simply to open our markets to foreign agricultural products that are cheaper and therefore full of benefits.
Well-being, you say? In this life or the next?
For our people, unfortunately, the answer is obvious!”