Farmer's Perspective on Global Issues (1997)

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This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
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Dec., 1997
(Source: ICA Review, Vol.90 No.4, 1997, pp.84-89)

Farmers' Perspectives on Global Issues
by David King*
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Introduction
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It is a pleasure for me to be part of this seminar on "The global
dimension of co-operatives". ICA is to be congratulated for this
initiative in which co-operatives are seeking to play a leadership
role in shaping tomorrow's society. We are honoured that you will do
this in the true co-operative spirit by working with others, like the
farmers' organizations represented by the International Federation
of Agricultural Producers.

It is important to understand change, and to understand how to adjust
to it. Farmers' organizations, including agricultural co-operatives, must
help their members to better deal with the complex and shifting
environment in which they operate. Indeed, we must manage and lead
the change, as you said, Mr. Chairman, in your opening remarks. Farmers
will not thank an organization that pretends that all is well, and lets its
members get left behind.

Globalization is being pushed by rapid technological innovation. It is
being facilitated by government policies of trade liberalization and
economic deregulation.

IFAP has spent some time addressing these issues. I will  share with you
some of our thinking and the conclusions reached so far.

Technological change
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Farmers, too, want to benefit from the technological advances that are
driving globalization. Research and development is critical to our ability
to meet the food needs of a world population growing by 90 million extra
people every year. These food needs will have to be met from a shrinking
resource base, with less land and even less water available in the future.

Research and development is also important for developing novel uses for
farm products, in renewal energy, for example, or in biodegradable
products. And, very important, more public investment in research and
development is vital to develop a better understanding of biological
processes, so that we can be confident that new products or new farming
methods are safe. It is important that we strive to constantly improve the
quality of our products and our impact on the environment.

IFAP is working on a major policy document on the use of biotechnology
in agriculture. Farmers want access to this new technology, but we have
two concerns.  These are:

i)	that there are sufficient assurances that the products of biotechnology
	are safe for human health and are not harmful to the environment, and

ii) that the benefits of biotechnology are not controlled by large
	multinational seed and chemical companies, at the expense of the
	farmers.

Farmers' organizations and particularly co-operatives have a role in the
diffusion of new technology and in giving advice to farmers.

A farmer trusts his co-op, or should do, if it is working properly. Much
of the success of the 'green revolution' in India was due to the efforts of
farmer co-operatives in diffusing the new technology.  Many farmers are
prepared to contribute to the funding of research, especially for non-
hybrid varieties of seed that private companies are not so interested in
developing. However, if farmers are going to contribute to research, then
they want their money to go to their co-operatives. At a time when,
governments are increasingly privatizing their services, co-operatives can
ensure a balance in control of technology between multinational firms and
farmers' organizations.

In the developing countries, there is a rich heritage of indigenous
knowledge. Local co-operatives are well-placed to use this knowledge in
a more scientific way. This would avoid patent problems and bio-piracy
problems. It would also give developing countries access to the fruits of
new technology which otherwise may pass them by.

Mr. Chairman, you mentioned the importance of building partnerships.
At national level, IFAP has been working for many years to establish
linkages between farmers' organizations, research scientists and extension
services with good results. At the international level, IFAP is working on
a joint document on biotechnology with ICA and other partners in a
newly-formed International Agri-Food Network.

Multilateral Trade Negotiations
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Another priority for IFAP -  and surely too for ICA - is to prepare for
the re-opening of multilateral trade negotiations in 1999-2000. In each of
our countries, we want family farm businesses and co-operatives to be
strong and profitable. To achieve this farmers everywhere need access to
markets. Also markets need to work better so that we can achieve better
international prices for farm products. 

With globalization, it is necessary to move  to some sort of farm policy
consensus within the World Trade Organisation (WTO), since national
policies do affect each other. International rules should encourage policies
that are the least trade distorting, but which at the same time  allow for the
development of agriculture in all our countries. 

Access to markets is important. But we must not forget that behind each
high tariff there is a genuine concern for the survival of family agriculture
and rural communities in difficult areas. IFAP firmly believes that all
countries must contribute to bringing about global food security. Whether
a country is a food net importer, a food net exporter, developing or
industrialized, all have an agricultural potential that can be harnessed
by farm families to contribute to world food security.

The 'green box' of the GATT agreements is supposed to define the
consensus of how farm support is provided. 

However, we are concerned that even though there is a 'green box', many
governments are not using it. A trend is underway towards cost recovery
policies - for example government charging farmers for inspection services.
Governments are also reducing support for research and extension. These
programmes are clearly allowed under WTO rules. They are highly valued
by farmers, but governments are cutting them.

Governments seem to be taking the attitude that they should be passive
observers of economic developments, only making the rules of the game.
We believe that governments' role should be more than this. Family
farmers need a stable and profitable environment in which to work and
invest. Governments should also be active in facilitating the efforts of the
farmers themselves, through their co-operatives, mutual institutions and
representative organizations.

In your opening remarks, Mr. Chairman,  you mentioned the increasing
importance of international bodies in your 'centrifugal-centripetal power
shift'. The World Trade Organization is obviously one  body  which will
have an impact on the life of the co-operative movement. This will happen
directly, for those co-operatives involved  in international trade. But there
will be indirect effects also through members who will increasingly look to
their co-operatives to help them through the difficult adjustment process
to globalization. The pressures on co-operatives will be great. International
markets are tough. The situation of many members of farmer co-operatives
is extremely difficult. Some farmers will need help to adjust, or even to
leave agriculture with dignity.

Other international bodies that will be of increasing importance to
co-operatives are international standard-setting institutions such as the
Codex Alimentarius Commission. International standards will become a
reference point for national legislation, since this is critical to the success
of the multilateral trading system. Health, safety, environmental and other
regulations must not become disguised barriers to trade. 

Trade in its traditional sense is changing with globalization,  Many of the
international transactions that take place today are simply internal
transfers between the different parts of large transnational companies.
In the past, overseas investment was a way of overcoming trade barriers or
of serving specific markets. Today, companies are selecting overseas
locations for specialized subsidiary companies which enable them to
operate most effectively on regional or global markets. 

The level of investment funds moving around the world is huge. Foreign
direct investment (FDI) is growing faster than international trade. Virtually
every day we hear of new mergers or acquisitions or investments in
privatization.  

Farmers are understandably nervous when, in a more liberal environment,
they have to face the huge transnational groups which dominate
international markets. Efforts are being made by farmers to become better
organized to face the increasingly small number of buyers in the food
industry. As a priority, they must support and strengthen their
co-operatives in this regard. This is no time for individualism.

As co-operators, farm leaders  and other partners in civil society, we
must become more involved in the process of international rule making,
and international standard setting. It may be tedious and technical, but it is
critically important. Within the co-operative and farm movements we do
have the expertise to be able to make a valuable contribution in a practical
way.

Rural Poverty and Sustainable Development
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The third and final issue that I wish to share with you is that of
'rural poverty and sustainable development'. It concerns a large number
of people who are not yet in a position to make their full contribution
to the development of the world economy.

As a group, the developing countries have made a relatively strong
performance throughout the 1990s. They contributed 70 per cent of
the growth in world output. They contributed 50 per cent of the growth
in world trade. Over 90 per cent of the world's population growth is
occurring in the developing countries. This is a huge demand potential.

However, this relatively strong performance has not been shared
universally. Capital flows to the developing countries are concentrated
in only 12 nations - mostly in East Asia. The 48 least developed countries
receive virtually no foreign investment at all.  

Over 20 per cent of the world's population, or 1.2 billion people,  still live
in absolute poverty. They exist on an income of less than $1 per day. Official 
development assistance is at its lowest level for over 20 years.
The poorest countries are deeply in debt. 800 million people are suffering
from hunger as a direct consequence of poverty.

The results of the Uruguay Round did not satisfy many of the developing
countries. They feel that prime beneficiaries were the rich and powerful
countries. Markets of particular interest to developing countries, such as
textiles and footwear, remain relatively closed. While tariffs on agricultural
raw materials are low or zero, there is a steep escalation of tariffs against
processed products from developing countries. 

Developing countries are also not able to benefit fully from the
opportunities of the GATT agreements since they often lack adequate
customs services, and veterinary and crop inspection services. There is
also often a lack of financial and insurance services in developing countries,
and handling and transportation systems need upgrading. 

To try to address these problems IFAP is promoting a partnership
arrangement between government and farmers' organizations, focused
upon the small family farm sector. Governments would provide the
policy, institutional and regulatory frameworks,  as well as basic rural
infrastructure. Farmers' organizations would take on more responsibility
for ensuring the development of the micro-economies of the rural areas.

Mr. Chairman, you will see that I am now at the other end of your
'centrifugal-centripetal  power shift', namely that of local and
community-centred action. Through the development of the local
micro-economies, agriculture can be both a provider of food and
provider of revenue, and thereby a solution for the eradication of
poverty and hunger.  Small-scale agriculture needs to be used as an
engine of growth to increase rural incomes and enhance the effective
demand for locally-produced goods and services. This in turn will
stimulate the development of the manufacturing and service sectors.

Over the last 15 years, governments have substantially retreated from
agriculture. However, the small farm sector in developing countries will
not progress without access to basic rural infrastructure -  access to land,
water, education, and health care; access to all-weather roads, marketing
and storage facilities, electricity supplies,  irrigation and tele-
communications; access to inputs and credit and to timely information
on new technology and market prices.

For their part, farmers' organizations, including co-operatives, need to be
strengthened so that they are able to assume  new responsibilities.  In the
future some of the services previously provided by the State will have to
be provided through our co-operatives, and through linkages with other
institutions such as research centres. Linkages between farmers'
organizations and research institutes have been pioneered by IFAP over
many years. Stronger linkages also need to be made between farmers'
organizations in the developing and industrialized countries through the
movement-to-movement approach, covering such fields as technology
transfer, technical assistance, policy development and exchange of ideas
and experiences.

Concluding Remarks
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In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, you are right that we must look outward.
The phase coined by Mrs. Brundtland about thinking globally and acting
locally has never been more true. Modern communications technology
allows us to be linked by electronic mail and the internet so there can be
no excuse for non-performance.

For many years, IFAP and ICA have been working together. We are both
founder members of COPAC - a unique Committee which brings together
key UN organizations and key international NGOs to work jointly for
co- operative development. We worked together at the UN Social Summit
in Copenhagen, and again at the UN Summit on Women in Beijing. There
is good co-operation on the celebration of World Rural Women's Day on
15th October, and the International Day of Co-operatives on 5th July.

ICA's Agriculture Committee and IFAP's Co-operatives Committee work
closely together. They held a joint session in Versailles, France, last year at
the time of IFAP's 50th anniversary celebrations. Last year, at the FAO
World Food Summit, IFAP, ICA and eight other international agribusiness
organizations produced a joint statement on world food security.

As you can see we are working with civil society, not only within the
NGO community, but also within the private sector. But we must do more
if our organizations are to play a leadership role in managing change in the
interests of our members. For, Mr. Chairman, working together is simply
working well.

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* Mr. King is Secretary-General of the International Federation of
   Agricultural Producers in Paris.