A Director of Third World Network (TWN), Malaysia, Mr Martin Khor, yesterday said the neglect and dismantling of good agricultural interventions of the governments of less-developed nations by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in the late 1980s had currently worsened the development challenges of those countries.
He has, therefore, suggested that developing countries nurture their agricultural sector to ensure their development.
He said the conditions that made agriculture successful in the 1970s and 1980s in most developing countries, such as marketing boards, subsidies, provision of seeds, fertilizer and equipment, loans for farmers and farmer cooperatives, and well coordinated market and factory links resulted in making them self-sufficient in the production of rice and other food crops.
That, he pointed out, needed to be brought back on the development agenda.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Graphic on the eve of the closing of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Mr Khor, an economist, journalist and writer of several books, shared his views on the global food insecurities and the conference.
He deplored the neglect of the sector by major donor agencies, but worse of all, he said, was the coercion by the World Bank and the IMF for governments of developing countries to lower their tariffs on agricultural produce to the current tariff rate of 20 per cent, when they were entitled to a 90 per cent tariff rate under WTO rules.
He pointed out that while wrong tariffs were being forced on developing countries to stifle their productive capacity in agriculture, rice in the US was heavily subsidised for it to sell at 34 per cent below the cost of production.
“In fact my study and research of farmers, rice and particularly poultry production in Ghana is very sad. The once thriving poultry industry has been brought to its knees”, said.
He recounted the case in 2003 when under pressure from poultry farmers, the government decided to raise the tariffs to 40 per cent, but the IMF and World Bank insisted on 20 per cent or a withdrawal of loans.
He described the situation as ridiculous, adding that governments of developing countries were not to blame but donor agencies that used double standards in dealing with developing and developed countries.
“They demand of us to get rid of our subsidies to our farmers and reduce tariffs. It is criminal of them that they superintend over distortions in the market, when they are supposed to be against people who do that.”
Mr Khor likened the situation to two countries, with one stockpiling conventional weapons, nuclear and chemical, and the other with nothing to defend itself.
“And even with nothing they tell you that you are not allowed to defend yourself”, he said.
All these had caused food production to be below what developing countries like Ghana, Cameroon and Senegal could produce.
He called for a policy change by the international financing agencies to help address the problem.
He said the UN, Japan, and EU, which controlled the IMF and World Bank had to be sincere and tell them to allow developing countries to increase their tariffs to a level where they could protect farmers to feed themselves.
Secondly, once the policy change was in place then the countries could increase their tariffs and better the lot of farmers through appropriate gain from their productivity.
He said the right technology and application of good farming methods such as organic farming could regenerate the fields of Africa to enhance its productivity.
In the long run, the developing countries had to take the decision to produce more for their own needs and if they did not even become totally self-sufficient, they had to become mainly self-sufficient, he said.
On the conference itself, Mr Khor said civil society organisations were a critical part of the process of development and trade and had been given the necessary collaboration from the UNCTAD XII.
However, he said, it would have been better if more members of civil society organisations had been invited to the panel discussions for more varied and exacting interaction.
On the administrative side, Mr Khor said he had no regrets except that some documents from the session, meant for delegates and participants, were received late.
TWN, Africa, convened the civil society organisation forum that was organised prior to the forum and organised other activities concurrent to the main meetings.
DAILY GRAPHIC, SATURDAY, APRIL 26, 2008, PG 34