Accra, Oct. 9 GNA - Scores of farmers at Nyariga in the Upper East Region mounted about 50 donkeys, each pulling a chart carrying about five to seven people and amidst drumming, singing and playing of high pitched flutes to symbolically begin a journey to Hong Kong to protest to the 6th Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in December this year, that developing countries needed fair international trade.
The choreographers did a very good job by timing the arrival of the caravans at the tail end of a durbar held to educate the people about the WTO meeting.
The arrival of the caravans precipitated a spontaneous reaction from the people, who jumped into the donkey charts to begin a caravan journey from Nyariga to Hong Kong. It might sound funny but it was real and symbolic.
The people were convinced that the acquiescence of governments of developing countries to the dictates of WTO was responsible for their poverty. They had harnessed the resources available to them to produce rice, cotton, vegetables and raised animals and yet they could not find market for their produce. Poverty was staring them in the face. Smarting under the yoke of the dictates of the developed countries the people were more than prepared to journey to Hong Kong on donkeys. Hong Kong will hear their voices of protest. They agreed to empower their Trade Minister to boldly register their protest not to sign any protocol inimical to them. They signed documents to that effect. It was in such a lively mood that the campaign on "The Road to Hong Kong" was set. The journey began on September 27 and ended on October 4 2005.
Participating were representatives from civil society groups in Ghana including nongovernmental organisations, organised labour, faith based organisation and farmers. The eight-day trek took them across the three ecological zones of Ghana - Northern, Middle Belt and Southern Ghana.
The voyagers collated grassroots experiences of the negative impact of WTO arrangements.
Dr Steve Manteaw of Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC) and Co-ordinator of the campaign, seeing the enthusiasm of the people, the role play they mounted to tell a story about cheating in international trade said 'we did not plan for this action into our campaign. Really, the road to Hong Kong starts from Nyariga." The campaign was under the auspices of Oxfam (Great Britain), ISODEC, SEND Foundation, TWN-Africa, Action Aid Ghana, Market Access Promotion Network, Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana, General Agricultural Workers Union, Abibiman Foundation among other groups. The Caravan stopped over at Savelugu, in the Northern Region, Tuobodom, in the Brong Ahafo Region, Okyereko in the Central Region and Asutsuare and Tema in the Greater Accra Region where they interacted and collected views of the farmers on the impact of the WTO rules on their livelihoods.
All the farmers spoke with one voice citing low production due to removal of subsidies on farm inputs like fertilizers; processing problems; lack of storage facilities and poor prices. Listening to them one was at a loss to comprehend how the farmers at the Vea Irrigation Dam, which could irrigate 800 hectares for the production rice, tomatoes and other vegetables and had facilities for fish-farming could be living in abject poverty and hunger. Mr Adamu Agandaa, Chief Farmer at Nyariga (UER), said: "Government should devote more resources to agriculture production. The dam must be rehabilitated. We need fertilizers and farm machinery to process the rice we produce through subsidy. This is the government can do. Are the country's development partners too acting on the WTO dictates? Mr Agandaa said it was Oxfam, which gave them a loan of 80 million cedis last year to rehabilitate part of the dam that made it possible for them to produce some rice and that they have been able to repay about 50 per cent of the loan.
The collapse of the Pwalugu Tomato Factory has also heightened the poverty level in the area. When the factory was functioning the farmers did not think of migrating to the South for menial jobs. Now imported canned tomatoes flood the markets.
He said, "now, with the poverty, our women have left us for neighbouring countries and some have gone down South. Our families are broken; we cannot send our children to school".
One could not agree more with the National Advocacy Officer, Oxfam, Mr Baba Tuahiru, who said at the Nyariga durbar that the upcoming trade talks stood as a crucial determinant of trade rules that would govern international trade for the next decade or more.
"The seeming silence and failure to produce a blueprint as at last July Cancum meeting for endorsement during the sixth ministerial conference in Hong Kong confirms this.
It is, therefore, important that governments of developing countries should assert themselves and speak with one strong voice for trade reforms that would fight poverty, promote food security, ensure rural development, and environmental sustainability.
"Rich nations will say one good thing but act contrary using institutions like the World Bank and the IMF as instrument to press for trade reforms that seek to serve their interest.
"One key area where these rich nations target is the requirement that developing countries 'open up' their markets among others in exchange for loans. A market for buying and selling of 'reforms' has, therefore, been created where multilateral institutions like the World Bank, IMF and other donor agencies and countries buy reforms from developing nations like Ghana with the indoctrination that in 'free trade' lies poverty reduction since it leads to increased efficiency and total output as a result of competition."
And yet, Mr Tuahiru said: "The world has been observing the implementation of 'free trade' in many developing countries for some time now and we are all witnesses to the inadequacies associated with the model and must be fair to admit this."
In August this year, African Civil Society adopted a declaration on the 6th Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong On Agriculture, the group that met in Accra, Ghana under the auspices of the Third World Network, Africa said in the on-going negotiations, Africa and other developing countries faced the danger of being forced to open their markets to agricultural exports from the developed countries while the latter continued to protect theirs. Worse, the African and other developing countries would be exposed to the unfair subsidies of the developed countries, with artificially cheapened products being dumped in their markets, their own farmers displaced, and their livelihoods disrupted.
They demanded that African countries must not undertake any further reduction in their tariffs for agricultural products; and they must also not bind their tariffs at current levels. In addition, they must have the right to use measures to further strengthen their ability to protect their domestic producers, as they judged necessary, including the special safeguard mechanism and the right to designate special products.
The declaration asked the developed countries to eliminate all their subsidies, which enabled them to dump artificially cheap products in markets of developing countries and devastate those economies. "We call on our governments not to accede to the request of the developed countries for further liberalisation; and furthermore, not be coerced into committing their existing liberalisation undertaken under IMF/World Bank pressure, as this will entrench them in the WTO and make them irreversible," the declaration stated.
There is no doubt that when government initiated a policy and the people understood its imports, they would embrace it.
For instance, rice production domestically would enable us not to depend on imports. The social benefits would include: income to the farmer, health will be taken care of, education will be more and easily accessible to the producer and wealth will be generated. In what he said was surprising, Mr Mumuni Alhasan, Field Operations Manager, Ghana Cotton Company Limited, indicated: "The Industrialised nations heavily subsidised their adult industries but tell we the developing nations not to subsidise our young and infant industries. Why?"
He told the Ghana News Agency in an interview that cotton production in the three Northern Regions that held the key to reducing poverty had collapsed because of unfair external competition, which had been made possible through WTO liberalisation policies.
According to him over 10 billion cedis worth of cotton lint were locked up in warehouses mainly due to persistent falling prices coupled with increasing high production cost as against cheap and subsidised imported fabrics leading to the collapse of the nation's textiles industry.
The powerful should not continue to make the weak weaker, the rich richer. The beauty of the world would be seen in equity. It is, however, gratifying that the people of developing world have come to the realisation that their poverty is a derivative of the tyranny of the powerful rich countries that to wholly dictate international trade laws.
So governments of developing countries should not allow their hands to be tied behind them. They are being challenged to a fight back to redeem their impoverished people. 9 Oct. 05