Eating Rice from Arkansas or Colombia?

By Libardo Gómez Sánchez, Diario del Huila, Neiva, August 2, 2010
(Translated by Janelle Nodhturft, a CSN Volunteer Translator)
The flow of the Mississippi River carved out the Delta Region in the state of Arkansas and what in the past was an empire of cotton production today has become the largest producer of rice in the United States. John Smith is a typical North American farmer and linked with the Riceland Food Corporation, the largest miller and marketer of rice in the world. This year like every other year, John went to the office of the manager of the district of Eastern Arkansas to speak with Derrick Opal for information about the conditions of the trade negotiations for the 2010 crop season. Mr. Opal confirmed that the Department of Agriculture of the United States was ready and willing to smooth over any inconveniences presented to the farmers by the climate or unexpected plagues that would affect crop yields. He also ensured that Riceland Food Corporation for its part would guarantee good prices for the rice, like they were able to do under the Clinton Administration when they took hold of the Haitian market. This time the administration is close to confirming the free trade agreement with Colombian which assures the opening up of a new market with more than 40 million consumers. Additionally he related that the subsidies the farmers receive from the U.S. government would continue, allowing them to sell their products abroad even when the prices are lower than their cost of production.  
At the same time, Lázaro Salazar, a life-long rice farmer from Palermo does not know what to do because he’s obliged to contract with the agrarian bank in his area and is struggling severely with his crops. He planted the rice on his plot of land, tended to it with fertilizer, irrigated the land, pulled out weeds, and still a few days before his harvest mites appeared and shortly following this, bacteria destroyed his crop. As if they were working with a small amount susceptible to sudden loss, ten thousand units fell and were gone in an inexplicable way. Here there isn’t a surplus in production, contrarily there’s a shortage.

Every year John receives free assistance and accompaniment from cooperative extension services offered to him by the Division of Agriculture at the University of Arkansas. He can also review the short term weather forecast using Weather Channel web pages and count on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep him informed of agricultural policies, market trends, federal subsidies and special events and programs for agricultural producers. Additionally, the Boards of Trade in Chicago and Kansas City keep him in the know about commercial operations involving rice and the future prospects of the rice market.

Meanwhile Lázaro watches TV to get the very generic daily climate reports of Max Enriques and receives menacing notes from his bank threatening him with his unpaid mortgage charges on the plot of land. The technical assistance he was receiving from a cooperative is canceled on him and he can’t afford the purchase of some of the primary agricultural materials he needs. The sixty units per hectare that he reaped are far from the 120 that he is used to yielding and he no longer sleeps thinking about the FTA that President Uribe of Colombia signed with the United States. The agreement will facilitate the arrival of rice from Arkansas and flood the Colombian market, causing the price Colombian producers get paid for their rice to fall. Colombian rice will never reach Colombian consumers with Arkansas rice available so cheaply. This situation will cause farmers to leave large areas of farmland when faced with the impossible demand of paying even their costs of production, let alone anything else. With this disadvantage in place, people from Bogotá surely won’t miss the farmers that produce their food in Colombia. They’ll be in the streets of the city, far from their plots of land and livelihood, on August 4th, calling on the government to understand that in the end a policy in defense of national agricultural production is equal to food security for Colombians.

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