A new vision for agriculture
momagri, movement for a world agricultural organization, is a think tank chaired by Christian Pèes.
It brings together, managers from the agricultural world and important people from external perspectives,
such as health, development, strategy and defense. Its objective is to promote regulation
of agricultural markets by creating new evaluation tools, such as economic models and indicators,
and by drawing up proposals for an agricultural and international food policy.

Ibrahim Coulibaly
Personal account

“We cannot be told that we can eat
when we have become competitive”

by Ibrahim Coulibaly,
President, National Confederation of Farmers’ Organizations of Mali

On the occasion of a speech at the UN Committee on World Food Security on October 19, 20111, Ibrahim Coulibaly, President of the Mali National Confederation of Farmers’ Organizations, presented the perception of African farmers on the dismal results of neo-liberal policies implemented by international organizations to promote agricultural development. Contrary to the objectives pursued, they ended up weakening local agriculture systems and impoverishing many farmers. Based on this observation, Ibrahim Coulibaly defined the conditions that he deems necessary to develop African agriculture and integrate it in international trade––regulating physical and financial agricultural markets and implementing an effective reserve policy. The Doha Round is thus far from being the “development” round––as it was initially proposed––and Ibrahim Coulibary’s proposals are all key points to be considered, which highlight the urgency to rapidly revise the WTO’s agenda.

momagri Editorial Board

Almost forty years ago, when I was a small boy, no one spoke about volatility. I still remember how our government provided our parents with ploughs, plough oxen and fertilizers on credit. At that time, there was a public service––the OPAM––that bought food products from farming families at prices that were known beforehand.

About thirty years ago, I was in secondary school, we were told that it was better to produce for for foreign markets and we began hearing the expression “deterioration of the terms of trade” in statements by our political leaders, a genuine grievance at the time, but which did not resonate anywhere else. What did it refer to? In truth, the prices of export agricultural products were collapsing on the international market. The governments of the time had in fact made the fatal mistake of encouraging farmers to produce more for export, but once things went wrong, farmers alone paid the heavy toll.

In the 1980s, the collapse of our economies and the ballooning public debt led the World Bank and the IMF to subject our countries to a structural adjustment.

We were then told that the State was ineffective and that we had to give a larger role to the private sector. At the same time, our governments had to go even deeper into debt to restore macroeconomic balances. We were told to cut all support to under-performing family farming, and the World Bank and its affiliates then launched a true destruction campaign against this type of agriculture.

We were told to produce greater quantities of cash crops for export––such as cotton, coffee and peanuts––which sold at very low prices set abroad. We were told to use these currencies to purchase rice from Asia or flour or dry milk from Europe, all goods whose prices have now become so volatile. The downward spiral had thus started for family farmers and for our governments that were heavily indebted and unable to pay.

Then we were encouraged to become competitive according to the criteria of international financial organizations, and told that our governments were no longer authorized to protect us. All our tariffs were dismantled, our markets liberalized, and cheaper foods grown abroad started to flood our markets, thus making us even more defenseless against price volatility. Eating habits shifted in the cities and food production by family farms could not sell. Such trend became worse in Western Africa with the advent of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and its Common External Tariff, known to be the world’s lowest tariff.

None of these imposed “solutions” pulled us out of poverty. And adding insult to injury, we became even more vulnerable. This is the environment in which family farming was asked to be successful.

Today, we must deal with new issues that come out of the blue––climate change, financial speculation, unpredictable international markets and new policies by developed nations that grab our farmland to produce biofuel. But his does not generate any comment. Yet, it is at the heart of the volatility discussed today.

Rather than addressing the causes of poverty and volatility, we have been presented with real catalogs of projects and programs financed in the name of the rural sector. Billons of dollars are mobilized every year, but the fact remains that over half of family farmers in our countries cannot get one thousand dollars to buy a plough, a couple of oxen, a cart or a donkey, as published by a FAO study on agricultural mechanization in Mali. A high-level panel of experts should be commissioned to conduct a study on the effectiveness of what is marshaled in the name of the poor. When several hundred of millions of dollars are earmarked, how much makes it to the fields of the poor men and women who are so often talked about? You would be surprised by the results of such a study, or maybe not, because we should all be already wealthy following the millions mustered in our name.

In spite of all this, without any financial aid in any shape or form, without any means of protection but with all the world’s powerhouses against it, agriculture has not disappeared.

Sadly, it took the current crisis for our governments to become once again aware of the need to base food security on national food production. Yet, long-term solutions are slow to come about.

To resolve the issue of price volatility, we the farmers, with the support of the other civil society stakeholders, believe that it is necessary:
    - To give priority to our local markets and regional integration, rather than let our prices be set by distant and unpredictable international markets. This is the only solution for allowing us, the farmers, to feed ourselves, our communities and our cities.

    - To discontinue all kinds of competition between farming and production means with sizeable productivity gaps (the hoe against the tractor aided by subsidies is a concept hard to accept). We cannot be told that we can eat when we have become competitive.

    - To terminate all policies which destabilize our system of family farming. In times of overproduction, we suffer from dumping, and in times of shortage, we suffer from export restrictions regarding food were asked to no longer produce.

    - To require our governments to aspire to policies to get us out of poverty and destitution, protect our family farms from volatile markets and support our activities so that we can invest to feed our people.

    - To use the known existing tools to stabilize prices: appropriate tariffs, strategic stocks at various levels, management of supply and demand, and regulations against speculators… By virtue of what law is the WTO preventing us from doing so?

    - To allow farmers, women and vulnerable groups in rural areas to truly have access to funds mobilized in their names, so that they can acquire agricultural equipment, fertilizers and seeds, to add value to their products, so that they can tart earning a decent livelihood from their work.
In conclusion, when we sit in front of our plates at lunch, I would like to call on all of us to reflect on the fact that at that very moment, people are dying of hunger or malnutrition because costly meetings are being held around their fate and are failing to generate any of the actions that could save them. We can no longer wait.

1 http://www.cnop-mali.org/spip.php?article154

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Paris, 19 June 2019