Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Rev. Gerry: Cotton and Immigration

Good morning, everyone,

I’m thinking about submitting an application next week to NOT grow cotton on my little acre outside of Tucson. Then I will use the proceeds to pay my 2 teenagers NOT to pick the cotton we don’t grow. This should substantially improve their clothing allowance, which they can spend on cotton clothing our government spent money to subsidize – I hate to think what it would cost at full value.

In the 1930’s depression and dustbowls, 30% of Americans were farmers, and “price supports” were instituted to help agricultural families make it through some very hard times. Today’s farm subsidies, held in place by a very powerful agribusiness lobby supporting both major political parties, are quite a different matter. According to the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) online database, US taxpayers (that’s us) have spent more than 131 Billion dollars on farm welfare (yes, that’s one hundred and thirty one Billion with a B) from 1995 to 2003 (since NAFTA was enacted).

In 2003 alone, the federal farm support program totaled $16.4 billion. For comparison, federal spending for the education of all US children in 2003 was about $50 billion. Total federal spending on child hunger in the US in 2003 - Food Stamps, WIC, and School Lunch programs - was about $30 billion.

When I read about farm subsidies, somehow I think about, say, Iowa. But right here in Pima County, from 1995 through 2003, EWG lists one Marana business as receiving over 2 MILLION dollars, mostly in cotton subsidies. In total, farms subsidies in Pima County totaled $19,244,000 in from 1995-2003. AZ Starnet also has a list of 20 farmers in Pima County who were given around 13 million dollars by US taxpayers from 1995 to 2002, just to NOT grow things.

The farm program helps US farms export products more cheaply than farmers abroad can bring them to market. How? A large part of their profit comes as a gift from the US government. This makes our neighbors mad at us, as it destroys their economies and brings starvation to their people. The farm welfare programs thus make US farm production financially attractive. Then, when availability goes up and prices go down, the government shells out more of our money to those same farmers to not grow crops. And some considerable money is also doled out each year to those farmers who have crop shortfalls because of dry weather and other “disasters.” Some farmers get disaster relief every year because they always have disasters. ( i.e. drought in the desert).

In the case of cotton, which we grow a lot of here in Arizona, Bush Sr. instituted the “Step 2 Program” in 1990. This program bestows tax dollars to US exporters of cotton products (yarn, fabrics) if they will buy US-grown cotton, which is artificially higher in price because of – you guessed it – the money we give cotton farmers not to grow cotton, like the 20 farms in Pima County. From 1995-2003, that added $2.16 Billion in Step 2 money to the other farm giveaways, according to the Farm Subsidy database. Oh, what good I could do with that money!

U.S. government backing of cotton prices is an international trade bone of contention. Several African nations, along with Brazil and some other countries, have demanded an end to American cotton subsidy programs because of severe economic damage to millions of small-scale African cotton farmers. Brazil singled out the "Step 2 Program” in its 2003 challenge to U.S. cotton subsidies. During the years that we gave out $131 billion in farm subsidies, annual cotton production in Mexico dropped from 318,000 hectares in 1995 to 74,000 hectares in 2003 (USDA), in part because they could not compete with our subsidized prices.

Cotton is of course not the only problem, though that is what we grow locally. Overall corn production in Mexico supports some 18 million people. Corn is the staple food of Mexico, consumed directly as maize. Roughly 3 million Mexican people are employed directly in the cultivation of corn, and more than 40 percent of the Mexican agricultural labor force works in corn. According to Public Citizen, U.S. corn is now typically dumped in the Mexican market at up to 30% below the cost of local production. By 2002, 8 years after NAFTA, US corn exports to Mexico have doubled, and Mexico was the second largest consumer of exported American corn after Japan. What do you suppose happened to the farmers and workers?

I ask you, what would happen to our border “problem” if we sent our $131 Billion in farm subsidy money to Mexico, and other points South, and across the seas, so they could fairly farm their cotton, corn, and other crops at home? What if their farmers and workers could stay with their families rather than desperately risk death in the desert to find work in the US?

I am not proposing that this could actually happen. But it is important to keep in perspective how we ourselves are creating the flood of hungry immigrants crossing our Southern borders. It is a problem to have loose borders. It is a problem to have people dying by droves to get here. There are many social problems to deal with as a result of so many undocumented persons in the US. When we are thinking of ideas to resolve these problems, why can’t we factor our part in their plight into our solution?

And while we are figuring out what to do, maybe some of our subsidized Pima County farmers could be induced to cough up part of their bounty to help take care of the hungry travelers, or even to invest it in places that put people to work in Mexico. Maybe they already do. If so, I will sing their praises from the highest rooftops. If not, maybe it’s like we teach our children in kindergarten: clean up after yourself.

In peace, gerry
Rev. Gerry Straatemeier, MSW
"There is no difficulty that enough LOVE will not conquer, no disease that enough LOVE will not heal, no door that enough LOVE will not open, no gulf that enough LOVE will not bridge, no wall that enough LOVE will not throw down, no sin that enough LOVE will not redeem..." Emmet Fox


At 5:03 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Great post, Reverend. I wish every knee-jerk xenophobe who voted for prop 201 would read this post. This is exactly what Howard Dean talked about as a solution to illegal immigration: economic opportunity and sustainability at home. How ironic that the Federal government, whom so many castigate for doing too little to stop illegal immigration, does so much to contribute to its causes with short-sighted farming subsidies. I wonder if we'll ever hear the battle cry "Stop illegal immigration now! No price supports for corn!"


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