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Tuesday, 02 September 2014
Free Trade: Colombia Protests and Rural Development PDF Print E-mail
Written by Craig Frayne   
Tuesday, 03 September 2013 14:27

Source: Horizons of Friendship

In recent days, Colombian farmers led nation-wide strikes protesting the impacts of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), high fuel prices, and rural policies that have pushed many further into poverty.

Farmers claim recent Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) (with the U.S., the EU, and Canada) are threatening their livelihoods. From Mexico under NAFTA to Central America and beyond; the story is similar throughout the region: neo-liberal development models have often failed rural areas. Migration, high food and fuel prices, and even violence and armed conflict have been the result. In the wake of these protests, we can consider new production paradigms that reflect a return to core principles of human development.

Background: Policies that Failed Rural Producers
- See more at: http://www.horizons.ca/Information-Resources/What-s-Happening/Colombia-protests-and-rural-development#sthash.JktFztWL.dpuf

In recent days, Colombian farmers led nation-wide strikes protesting the impacts of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), high fuel prices, and rural policies that have pushed many further into poverty.

Farmers claim recent Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) (with the U.S., the EU, and Canada) are threatening their livelihoods. From Mexico under NAFTA to Central America and beyond; the story is similar throughout the region: neo-liberal development models have often failed rural areas. Migration, high food and fuel prices, and even violence and armed conflict have been the result. In the wake of these protests, we can consider new production paradigms that reflect a return to core principles of human development.

Background: Policies that Failed Rural Producers

The “Washington Consensus” and Structural Adjustment era beginning in the 1980s was first and most drastically implemented in Latin American countries. Policies imposed by World Bank economists and the Reagan Administration included elimination of agriculture subsidies and extension, dismantling of grain reserves and price boards, and the move away from small-scale farming to production of cash crops for export. In Nicaragua, for example, the percentage of peasant families receiving credit dropped from almost 100,000 to 34,000. This period also entailed a massive shift away from agricultural development, with the percentage of global Official Development Assistance (ODA) for agriculture falling from over 20% in the Pearson Commission era to less than 4% by the year 2000.

It is no coincidence that rural poverty levels rose during this time; rural insurgencies emerged and escalated in many countries in the region, including Colombia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Billions that could have gone into alleviating root causes went into funding armed conflicts under the pretext of the Cold War and War on Drugs.

By the 1990s, NAFTA continued the anti-rural development trend. Within a few years, millions of small-scale farmers in Mexico were forced from the countryside unable to compete with subsidized food imports. For the majority, the neo-liberal promise of urban employment and lower prices never came. Real wages were forced down by global sweatshops and minimum wages well below the cost of living; food and fuel prices rose due to speculation and monopoly market control. Mexico became a food dependent country, with spending on food imports rising from $1.8 Billion to $24 Billion.

Consequences for the whole of society include waves of migration, expanded drug trade and related violence; food riots; rising levels of malnutrition; increased levels of obesity, diabetes and food related health issues.

Trade Agreements escalate

While neo-liberal era policies were clearly a disaster for many, the trend escalated through even more Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). By 2001, 239 trade agreements had been implemented globally, with half put in place after 1995. With 70% of global trade controlled by just 500 corporations, it is clear who benefits and where the lobbying pressure comes from. In the case of Canada, the vast majority of trade agreements and foreign investment is with Latin American countries.

From 2011, a number of bilateral trade agreements took effect between Colombia and the U.S., Canada, and the E.U. Despite articulate opposition in all countries and well documented research of what the impacts would be, concerns were largely ignored.  In Colombia, a country with an ongoing 50-year civil conflict and 5.5 million internally displaced since 1985, failed rural development models were continued.

Predictable impacts seen elsewhere (such as Mexico under NAFTA) can now be seen in Colombia, leading to the current protests.

These include:


· Food imports from countries with subsidized agriculture undercut prices for small-scale food produces;

· Rising production costs for fuel, transport, and inputs (seed, fertilizer) making it even more difficult to compete;

· Rural development focused on mining and resource extraction projects without consent of local communities;

· Protection of intellectual property rights for Genetically Modified Seed (GMO) companies, making it illegal for farmers to replant seed (also increasing the cost of production).

Each context is unique and the answer is not a wholesale rejection of open markets and trade. However, without access to education, infrastructure or labour legislation, many are unable to accommodate the scale and scope of change vis-à-vis regions that do have these systems in place (due to generations of public investment and social reform).

Ways forward

While FTAs and globalization benefit primarily large commercial interests, local organizations have shown they are capable of creative, effective alternatives that operate at the same time. A current project with Canadian-based S.H.A.R.E Agricultural Foundation and farm producers in El Salvador and Honduras includes implementation of agro-ecology through agricultural training and production inputs for small-scale farmers throughout the countries. Similarly, Horizons of Friendship has several projects with Indigenous communities in Central America and Mexico to preserve traditional nutrition and food production methods.

It is not about a wholesale rejection of technology or urbanization, but being practical and working with local realities. Rather than macro-economic policy or ideology, it implies a return to core values of development (Goulet):

1. Life sustenance: the ability to provide basic needs, self-sufficient

2. Self-esteem: to be a capable, valued person; agent of personal and societal change

3. Freedom from servitude: to be able to choose

Current protests in Colombia were many years in the making and have roots and implications well beyond Colombia itself. With some creativity and intelligent programs, solutions are there for those willing to listen.

In recent days, Colombian farmers led nation-wide strikes protesting the impacts of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), high fuel prices, and rural policies that have pushed many further into poverty.

Farmers claim recent Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) (with the U.S., the EU, and Canada) are threatening their livelihoods. From Mexico under NAFTA to Central America and beyond; the story is similar throughout the region: neo-liberal development models have often failed rural areas. Migration, high food and fuel prices, and even violence and armed conflict have been the result. In the wake of these protests, we can consider new production paradigms that reflect a return to core principles of human development.

Background: Policies that Failed Rural Producers
- See more at: http://www.horizons.ca/Information-Resources/What-s-Happening/Colombia-protests-and-rural-development#sthash.JktFztWL.dpuf
 

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