Cotton subsidies enjoyed by U.S. farmers has a dampening effect on agricultural family incomes in the Sahelian countries of West Africa according to a news story in the New York Times. An Oxfam supported study found that a typical farm family of 10 in Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso or Benin “that now earns $2,000 a year would have an extra $46 to $114 a year to spend if American subsidies were removed.
While critics were quoted as saying that the amount of gain is low, that cotton prices are naturally volatile, and that countries would gain more by investing in industry, the seemingly slight potential economic improvement would be quite meaningful to rural families.
Daniel Sumner of the University of California Davis, who was involved in the Oxfam study, has previously written that, “The United States is the only WTO member that highly subsidizes cotton and that plays a significant role in the global cotton market.” He Further explains that, â€œUnlike rice, where poor nonfarm consumers likely gain from lower world prices, the rich-country cotton subsidies likely have little benefit for any of the poor in poor countries. And, unlike sugar, for which some poor countries get valuable preferential access to rich-country markets, there are no poor-country cotton producers that gain from the rich-country cotton subsidies.â€
Oxfam has been raising concern about the cotton subsidy issue for over five years. For example in 2002, Oxfam explained that, “American cotton subsidies are destroying livelihoods in Africa and other developing regions. By encouraging over-production and export dumping, these subsidies are driving down world prices. Oxfam also documented that, “Federal subsidies to the 25,000 US cotton farmers were worth more than $4.2 billion dollars in 2004-2005 â€“ more than the gross national product of Burkina Faso.” In addition to subsidies, Oxfam has addressed World Bank policies and programs that seem privatization of the cotton industry at the expense of the rural poor.
So what if the poor in the Sahel cotton producing countries had the extra cash? Would they use it to buy bednets to prevent malaria? Would they access ACT malaria treatments? Such actions might help offset the tremendous economic burden of malaria. Freedom From Hunger Foundation has found a successful link between microcredit and controlling malaria by families whose income improves. Doing away with cotton subsidies in rich countries may have an even wider impact on poor families’ ability to control malaria in Africa.