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#2033: Re: Economics of Sugar Industry: Esser comments (fwd)

From: d. e s s e r <mabouye@escape.com>

  If one looks at the price difference between haitian sugar versus
such grown in the U.S. as well as other places, it is, among other
things, important to note the high subsidies and environmental
destruction that comes with having "cheaper" sugar:

  Highly developed areas, mainly the United States and western Europe
are competitive because farmers are basically on the payroll of
government. I personally know of areas in Germany were sugar beets,
by the way much inferior when it comes to health and taste, had been
so highly subsidized, that farmers shifted a large part of their
production to that crop. Government had to intervene again because
budgets ballooned and the sugar grown at high expense to the
taxpayers wasn't worth all that much on the market.
 Of course such sugar can be sold cheaply in so called Third World
Nations, in fact this is sometimes necessary to free storage space
for next years crop.

  This form of agricultural subsidizing is found everywhere, it is
done by the European Union as well as the US government. Sugar
production in Florida's Everglades comes courtesy of big time
donations and influence wielding by the big growers. Many special
laws, tax breaks and laxity of enforcement of environmental
regulations keep that industry artificially alive.

  Especially the environmental side is of great significance. The
runoff from sugar plantations in Florida contaminates wide areas.
Many others writing before me have extolled the virtues of "modern"
agricultural techniques. Is it really so good to saturate the
environment with herbicides or pesticides? Should it make one proud
that a typical farm in the industrialized nations uses an
unbelievable amount of resources, be it energy, water or fertilizers?
Is it worth, just so "we" can export foodstuffs to peoples that
didn't need it in the first place!
  This practice is not sustainable in the long run. The effects of
the chemicals and this particular form of mechanized agriculture are
very well documented and the fact that this way of farming uses up
many irreplaceable natural resources, widely known. (Yes, even with
all that marvelous modern technology the soil is depleted all over
the Midwest.)

  So, to say that since Haitians cannot or are not willing to use
those same methods, they should eat imported food is cynical in many
ways. One of the reasons that haitian farmers cannot achieve better
lives for themselves, lies in the fact that the land is not owned by
the people working it. Instead of investing in their business, the
peasants have to pay excessive amounts to landowners. To say it may
be unwillingness on their part, is not possible without ignoring the
facts at hand.
  Many of the agricultural practices in Haiti, i.e. no
petrochemicals, are being adapted by many growers worldwide. It is
easy to see that the yield may be lower but the coming generations
might have land left on which to plant. While in cities as New York
the trade with organically grown goods is booming at an unbelievable
rate, cheaply manufactured unhealthy foods are being exported to the
southern hemisphere.

This raises the inevitable question: who benefits from the current

  Certainly not average Haitians since food prices have tended to go
up not down. The allegedly cheaper imports don't provide a better
quality of live for the common people. The local farmers suffer
because they are forced to compete with foreign tax dollars.
  It is very fitting, that the same "elites" that had a grip on
sugar, became owners of industrial parks. Without making life in the
countryside miserable, let's say by closing plantations or stopping
sugar cane processing, who would be willing to endure the conditions
in the factories? Without people moving to cities, working in
factories who would buy the imported goods. If life in the
countryside would not be dependent on the whims of big landowners and
their export strategies, the farmers would have little incentive to
be part of a scheme that aims to ship food out of a country were not
everybody has enough to eat. This always, and there is extensive
literature on the topic, benefits a country's rich and defrauds the
poor and land less.

  The industrialized nations while dumping their goods, all things
considered, below real costs, reap giant benefits: economic control,
cheap labor, a market for unwanted goods of excessive production,
political leverage and immigrants that work for next to nothing.
There is a term for all of that: neo-colonialism! The system of
slavery and oppression once again rears it's ugly head.

Dominique Esser