Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Farm Programs, Trade and World Poverty

-from the desk of Chuck Hassebrook, Executive Director, Center for Rural Affairs,

US Farm Programs, International Trade, and World Poverty

The Center is working with Oxfam, a world leader in international development, for more effective farm program payment limits.

US farm programs are in the spotlight as African poverty and development move up on the world’s agenda. The US cotton program has been attacked for its impact in West Africa, where small cotton farmers cannot compete with US cotton exports aided by farm program payments.
In some recent years, program payments have nearly equaled the price US cotton farmers received from the market. The resulting reduced income among Africa’s small farmers translates directly into hunger.

Current US farm programs were designed in response to legitimate concerns – growing international competition from mega-farms in Brazil and subsidized exports from the European Union. Small farmers in the developing world are suffering collateral damage in the battle.
Some critics have proposed ending all farm programs without regard to US family farms. The problem needs to be addressed, but there are better solutions.

Capping payments to mega farms and redirecting the money to rural development and conservation is a start. The Center has joined forces with Oxfam, the world’s leading international development organization, in seeking more effective payment limitations.
The European Union has taken related steps. Its recent reforms base more payments on historic production – to reduce incentives to produce and export at below-market prices. And it requires member nations to reduce payments for larger farms and use the savings to fund rural development programs. The US should match that by making the $3 billion in USDA cuts coming this fall by capping payments to mega farms.

The problem must ultimately be addressed in international trade agreements that set rules to ensure the benefits of trade are widely shared and extend to small farmers and rural communities worldwide. Without such rules, trade succumbs to the rule of the jungle, where the big prey on the small.

For example, labor and environmental standards are essential if trade is to benefit not only working people, but also small farms and businesses. The self-employed cannot pay themselves a middle class income for their labors and compete with multinational corporations that pay poverty-level wages to their employees – whether they operate overseas or at home.

Trade agreements need to make room for targeted programs that support small farmers, conservation, and rural development. They should provide latitude to nations that prevent severe agricultural market downturns by managing production. For example, nations that manage production should be allowed to take offsetting steps so their efforts aren’t undermined by a flood of imports or loss of export markets.

But we must also take a moral stance and oppose unfairness and injustice in rural Africa, just as in rural America. We can and must design policies to restore vitality to America’s family farms and rural communities that don’t sow poverty and hunger in the developing world.

Agree or disagree?
Post an opinion or comment her or contact Chuck Hassebrook,
or John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action


  • At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Since you asked, I agree with your arguement. I am disgusted by the fact that the farm program sends millions of dollars to huge corporate farms. When did that become the purpose of the farm bill?

  • At 7:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Just remember that many of those huge payments are helping to protect the environment. Many large "corporate" farms have the resources to protect the environment better than small farmers, who need to use their farm payments to survive. Those "corporate" farms are directing many dollars into the local economy, where smaller farms are just trying to pay the bills.

  • At 10:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Where i live, the best stewards of the land that I know are the smaller farmers. When the big guys come and throw their money around and bid land away from the smaller farmers, the first thing they do is rip out all the conservation work that has been done over the years.

    And, by the way, small and medium sized farmers spend a lot more of their money locally than the bigs guys do.

    I don't think that your theory about mega-farms being better at protecting the environment holds water, in fact, I think it is all wet.

  • At 2:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What does environmental protection have to do with this anyway. If big farms are doing so well that they have all this extra cash around to spend on "protecting the enviroment" as the earlier poster said, what do they need the subsidy for? They don't use all that exta cash to protect the enviroment, they use it to rent or buy land away from smaller farmers.

  • At 7:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    We'd all be better off in rural America if these corporate farm subsidies were cut completely. Look at it this way folks, it can't get any worse that what we have now. Efforts to subsidize agriculture have failed miserably and destroyed rural areas in the Great Plains. Use the money saved for direct support of rural America, not via farm welfare.

  • At 7:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    We need a Marshall plan for rural America. A new way of investing in rural communities that does not depend on passing through a handful of mega-farms. We need to invest in family farmers and ranchers and rural entreprenuers.

  • At 2:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I called Jim Nussle office about payment limitations. The staff person said that Congress could not reopen the farm bill. I said, "they can't?" Did someone take away their right to make laws (couldn't help wondering if that would be good or bad). And they said, well, they could, but they don't want to and Nussle can't "make" them do it. And I said, has he tried? He's the budget committee boss, don't they have to listen to him a little bit? They told me they would get back to me.


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