Socialist Worker

The reality of trade inequality — poverty and poisoned ground

Award winning photographer Jess Hurd recently spent time in Kenya and Uganda with the campaign group ActionAid. She spoke to some of the those whose lives have been affected by the trade rules and aid conditions imposed by the West

Issue No. 1958

Kenyan pyrethrum farmers have been bankrupted by the world market (Pic: ActionAid/Jess Hurd

Kenyan pyrethrum farmers have been bankrupted by the world market (Pic: ActionAid/Jess Hurd )

Cotton used to be the big cash crop in eastern Uganda and a major contributor to the country’s agricultural sector, which employs over 80 percent of its population.

But conditions attached to foreign aid have forced the government to liberalise the agricultural sector, removing subsidies to local farmers while at the same time opening the market to foreign imports, which are themselves often subsidised.

As a result, local prices have been forced down, seed has become more expensive and difficult to get hold of, and many farmers are forced to accept low incomes and long periods of hunger every year.


One of the farmers said, “I want to grow cotton, but it has become very expensive to cultivate because we have lost government support. We hear that this is because the G8 are supporting their own cotton farmers and have asked our government to stop helping us.

“Why are they doing this to us? Cancel our debts and stop destroying our market with your cheap cotton. We want to have lives too.”

While cotton framers are suffering from conditions attached to foreign aid, maize farmers are struggling with new commercial seed variants that, unlike local strands, require huge amounts of chemicals to grow.

Maize farmer Peter Kamuron said, “I have been growing maize for over 40 years. We used to use local seeds, which gave us good yields for our money, and we could replant these seeds and year after year.

“Then new seed was supplied to us by the Kenya Seed Company.

“We were told that these were new improved seeds that could give us double the yield we had been having. So we neglected the local seed and rushed in for this so called improved seed. We were very disappointed.


“We discovered that we needed to buy and use a lot of chemicals to help the crops to grow. It worked well for some years, then we discovered that this seed degraded the soil. We could not replant — we had to buy new seeds.

“It became too expensive to plant these crops because the fertiliser is expensive, so many farmers stopped growing this maize and returned to the local seeds.

“To our amazement the soils had become used to fertilisers and everything we planted refused to grow, and without fertilisers farmers continue to be poor.

“This state of affairs has led to extreme poverty levels in the Mbale area, since most people rely on the land to make a living.

“Our income levels have fallen considerably and we can no longer afford to send our children to school. The little maize we can produce also has no markets.

“The G8 should also stop giving subsidies to their own farmers because we are aware that it was their trade policies that have dictated to our governments to stop giving us subsidies.”


In Kenya the farmers who used to produce pyrethrum — a natural herbicide — have been forced into the same situation.

Because countries like the US dismiss pyrethrum, preferring to develop toxic alternatives in the lab which produce bigger profits, African farmers are denied a global market and much needed hard currency for their development.

The plant used to be grown widely until conditions attached to aid meant that the crop could no longer be exported.

One of the pyrethrum farmers, Joseph Koskey, said, “All was going well till we woke up one morning to discover that everything had changed.

“Our markets had collapsed and our livelihoods destroyed all because of the conditions slapped on foreign aid to our government.”

Pyrethrum is a yearly crop that used to sell at a decent price — but now the farmers are having to turn to less well paying crops that produce yield twice a year in order to try to feed their families.

But these cash crops are often the same ones that need new seeds, bought each year, and special fertilisers. This makes the crops so expensive to grow that it is almost impossible to support a family.


When a source of income is destroyed by the West, it destroys whole communities.

In Kenya, the giant sugar factory in Miwani, which once supported 10,000 contracted farmers, collapsed in March 2001 after being operational for only 12 years.

Despite the capacity to produce over 80,000 tonnes of sugar per year, contributing 1.5 billion Ugandan shillings to the Kenyan economy, the factory was forced to close, the victim of global dumping and Western pressure to “liberalise” agricultural production.

The nearby Karunga primary school was once attended by over 300 children. It now has only 60 pupils.

Head teacher Julius Owino said, “Many parents moved away, taking their children with them because they had no means to support them. We lack teachers, desks, water and proper sanitation. Even now some children sit on the mud floors to study.”

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Sat 2 Jul 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1958
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