How EU subsidies damage local farmers in Ghana
Saturday April 18th of this year the Dutch Democratic Party (D66) held its 101st national conference. With the national committee for Social Innovation and Gender Equality (of which I am secretary) we held a session about the basic income. The session was organized in collaboration with the national committee for Economy.
Besides an expert from the University of Rotterdam there were D66 representatives (town clerks) of two cities who initiated an experiment with the basic income. Thanks to their input and the collaboration with the national committee for economy the meeting was a success.
At the conference there also was a session on the European Agriculture policy. About that session I’d like to share more here.
The session was initiated by the national committee for agriculture. Amongst the participants was Gerben Jan Gerbrandy – member of the European Parliament and vice chair of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety – and Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, former minister of agriculture in the Netherlands (199-2002).
It was an open session and well prepared. Participants were asked to bring in suggestions for improvement of the EU agriculture policy. D66 had written a paper on this topic and in preparation of the session it was shared with the participants by email.
My suggestion to look at the EU subsidy regulations and practice made an impact on the meeting. I shared the example of Dutch poultry.
The European Union subsidizes the production of chicken that is being bred in a very animal unfriendly way (plofkip). The subsidy was actually meant for a campaign on animal well-being and food security but wasn’t used for that purpose. The Dutch large scale chicken farmers received millions of the subsidy. In 6 weeks’ time the chickens are prepared for slaughter and consumption. As a consequence this chicken is much cheaper than organic chicken or chicken that has been bred walking freely at the farm. With the EU subsidy these cheap meat chickens become even cheaper and the organic farmers can’t compete anymore. EU subsidy goes to companies who don’t actually need it and who don’t use it for the purpose it is meant.
But this is not the full story. Because the organic chicken can’t compete with the mass produced chicken, the farmers need to find alternatives for the sales of their poultry. They, but also the large scale chicken farmers have found an alternative market for their products; Africa. And again the export is with EU subsidy.
The industrial chicken farmers export the parts of the chicken that Western consumers do not eat to African countries. The Dutch farmers primarily export to Ghana. But also the biological bred chicken is being exported to Africa and Ghana. For them it is much cheaper to export the chicken meat to Africa than to find alternative markets in Europe. Why? Because of the European subsidy. There are actually two subsidies that the Dutch farmers have extra benefit from; the first one is for export and trade outside the EU, and the second one is though developmental aid subsidy. The latter concerns me deeply.
Dutch companies receive EU subsidy for developmental aid that should be going to the African continent and not be flowing back to Western companies. At least that is my opinion. It is good for European trade and the economic figures of export, but is it also good for the well-being of the global population? And is it developmental aid; should the budget be used for these purposes?
So this is the ‘technical’ aspect that I shared in the meeting and it was very well taken. But it was not my full story and not what made the impact. I shared that to me this is not only a technical story, but that it is hurting people I know and I care for. Then I told the story of my friend in Ghana. That made it real for everyone in the room.
The last few years I have been active in Ghana. The way that I work is such that I engage and live with the local tribal people. Because of that I have built up many good relationships with local Ghanaian people. People trust me because of how I live in Ghana and how I engage. One of the people I became close with is my friend Ibrahim.
Ibrahim is a chicken farmer in Tamale, Northern Region. I asked him what was true of the story I wrote here and how it influenced his business. “It is true” he said and explained me that many of the local chicken farmers needed to close their business because of the European chicken that is entering the Ghanaian market. Local farmers just can’t compete with the subsidized chicken from Europe and go bankrupt. A second problem they face is that the Western companies and governments spend large budgets on marketing of Western products as healthy, even if they are actually not. And it brings status if one can afford Western made products so Ghanians are eager to buy them.
So this is how EU subsidies also contribute to an increase of poverty in Ghana and an increasing gap between the rich and the poor. Money is not spent the way it should be and Dutch organic chicken is cheaper in Ghana than the local bred chicken. While the Dutch eat the mass produced chicken, the Ghanians eat the organic ones for a low price.
Well that is at least something positive, but I can’t say it is right. This really has to change as far as I am concerned.
And my friend, Ibrahim? He has difficulties, struggling to survive and to feed his family. Education for his children is costly, but he still survives. He has been able to change his business from meat poultry to a chicken farm where eggs are produced. His income is lower than before, but at least he has not gone bankrupt. The chickens that have served their term for the eggs end up in soup of friends and relatives. It is hard to sell them at the local market.
This is only one story, but I can imagine that there are many similar stories like this.