ASHAIMAN, Ghana _
At a time when the Live 8 concert organizers are building pressure to lift
Africa out of poverty, Kenneth Quartey says the rich nations of the world
are forcing his country to its knees.
Quartey, who owns one of West Africa's
largest poultry farms, says he is no longer able to compete with imports
of frozen chicken that have flooded Ghana since this nation of 21 million
people agreed to allow free trade. Ghana lowered tariffs and cut
agricultural subsidies in the 1990s as a condition of receiving debt
relief from international lenders.
Rather than stimulating the Ghanaian
economy and boosting employment, Quartey says, free trade has devastated
Ghana's farmers. In the last two years, he has laid off a third of the 150
employees at his farm in this town 30 miles east of the capital of Accra.
His poultry farm no longer produces broilers, only eggs.
"What you're breeding is a culture
of dependency," said Quartey, head of the Ghana National Association
of Poultry Farmers.
The complaint from Ghanaian poultry
producers is not limited to a single agricultural commodity, nor to a
single country. Across much of the developing world, farmers are under
siege by imports of meat and grain from rich nations that can afford to
subsidize their agriculture, say the farmers and international advocacy
groups such as Oxfam. The effect is acute in Africa, where most of the
continent's people work as small farmers.
When the Group of Eight industrialized
nations meets in Scotland next month, it will consider Africa's call for
more flexibility to protect the continent's agricultural economies.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has embraced assistance to Africa
as a major theme this year, has proposed that the rich nations confront
the major obstacles preventing Africa's poorest nations from emerging from
poverty, including high debt and trade inequities.
Organizers of the Live 8 concerts
Saturday in Philadelphia and Europe aim to generate political pressure on
the G-8 nations to come to Africa's aid.
"Why are we suffering?" said
Paul Akpabi, a rice farmer in Dawhenya who struggles to compete with
30-cent-per-pound rice imported from Asia and America. "Maybe the
international lenders want us to be totally dependent upon them."
Ghanaians can pay more than $3 per pound for locally grown rice. (The
average U.S. price last month for white, long-grain rice was 55.2 cents
Advocates of free trade argue that Ghana
and other small countries benefit from the lower prices that result from a
liberalized economy. Lower food costs translate into a lower cost of
living, which allows people to spend money on other things - theoretically
spurring the economy.
"Ultimately in the process of
economic growth, industries are going to start up and industries are going
to collapse," said Mahamudu Bawumia, special assistant to the
governor of the Bank of Ghana. "But you don't want to build an
economic policy on helping certain industries as the ones that cannot
But groups such as Oxfam, which have
taken up the cause of fair trade, say it is unfair to expect Ghanaian
farmers to compete with imports from large, mechanized farms in industrial
countries that have benefited from years of government subsidies. The U.S.
government subsidizes rice growers at a cost to taxpayers of more than $1
billion a year, Oxfam says.
While those subsidies result in cheap
imports for countries such as Ghana, advocacy groups say the trade-off of
lost jobs is not worth it.
"Consumers in Ghana getting cheap
food is kind of a sick joke, really," said Andrew Pendelton, an
organizer for Christian Aid, the charitable arm of British mainstream
Protestant churches that has championed the cause of Ghana's poultry
Christian Aid has organized protests in
which demonstrators dressed in chicken outfits greet the British prime
minister at public events.
In a nation where rice and chicken are
standard dinner fare, the struggle for the Ghanaian poultry market has
literally taken to the streets, where giant billboards in Accra advertise
the wholesomeness of American fowl.
At the Francopat Co.'s cold-storage
facility, individual buyers line up to get wholesale frozen chicken parts
in 22-pound cartons. Almost all of the imported poultry is the meat that
is less popular in industrialized countries - wings, thighs, legs, backs
At Kaneshie Market, sellers of live
chickens complain that few consumers are willing to pay the premium for
fresh chickens, even though the locally grown birds are regarded as more
flavorful. Most buyers stood in queues at the booths where sellers hacked
up bricks of frozen poultry.
"Buyers want the best price,"
said Richard Osei-Tuffour, who sells frozen chicken at less than $1 a
pound. "Our incomes in Ghana are quite low."
After imports of frozen chicken soared
from about 5,000 metric tons in 1998 to 30,000 tons in 2001 and Ghanaian
farmers began abandoning their farms, Ghana's Parliament approved doubling
the 20-percent import tariff on poultry to protect local producers. Rice
tariffs were increased from 20 percent to 25 percent. But the government
backed down after international lenders exerted pressure to refrain from
erecting the trade barriers.
While larger countries such as Nigeria
have virtually banned imports of frozen poultry to protect their domestic
producers, Ghana is more dependent on international lenders. Under the
Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative, established by the
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Ghana is receiving debt
relief on the condition that it use the savings on social programs and
that it open up its markets to free trade. Ghana has also phased out
subsidies on fertilizers, pesticides, fuel, electricity and water that
were designed to help local growers.
"With high tariffs, we will never
learn to compete in the global market," said Bawumia, of Ghana's
For a small producer like Emmanuel
Akuffo, who raises corn and chickens on a five-acre farm near the port
city of Tema, the competition is painful. He lost $2,000 on the last brood
of chickens he raised, some of which remain in cold storage until the
price improves. His current batch of 1,000 birds is promised to a local
buyer, but at a lower price than in the past. He worries that the $16,000
he invested in his operation in the last four years may be lost.
"Actually, I think I'm in the wrong
business," said Akuffo, who received college training in agronomy.
"But I've invested so much. It's very discouraging."