Copyright Reuters May 22, 2006
DAFARA VILLAGE, Mali (Reuters) – In this village about a two-hour drive from the capital Bamako, rock star Bono meets local chiefs and elders and says American cotton traded on the international market has an unfair advantage over Mali’s.
“There are cotton farmers in America who need to meet you,” says the Irish rocker and activist. “This is my biggest desire because I think they will understand you better because I think American cotton farmers would respect how you work the land so well with little water.”
The 90-year-old chief Julien Traore, sitting opposite the rock star under a mango tree surrounded by villagers and children, nods and encourages Bono to keep talking.
“The reason you don’t get more for your cotton is because world trade talks, the people who are sitting at the table, do not respect your situation,” Bono continues. “We will try to represent you in the trade talks where they won’t let you sit.”
Mali is one of Africa’s five big cotton producers next to Chad, Benin, Burkina Faso and Senegal that are demanding the United States dramatically cuts the subsidies it pays its farmers.
In 2004-5 U.S. producers received about $4.2 billion in federal subsidies, money that impoverished West African nations say depresses world prices and ruins their economies.
The West African producers have sought for several years to give cotton special status in the
World Trade Organization talks, currently stalled over broader farm issues.
Bono, on a six-nation African tour to see how Africa is trying to transform itself amid promises by the West of increased aid, is in Mali specifically to find out how low cotton prices are directly affecting farmers.
“I think Americans would like things to be more fair. We would like to have it more fair,” he says, then asks Chief Traore: “What do you think of America?”
“We think Americans are white men but they are still farmers,” responds the chief.
In his campaigning for Africa, Bono has lobbied leaders from the largest industrialized economies for better access for Africa to the large U.S. and European markets.
On his tour, Bono has argued that the only way Africa can escape the cycle of poverty is through increased trade.
In Mali, Bono also visited a state-owned cotton ginnery where cotton is washed and bundled for export, mainly to Asia.
Issa Djire, an agronomist and senior official at the ginnery, explains that 97 percent of Mali’s cotton is exported, while the remaining three percent is processed locally and turned into yarn and thread at local factories.
Djire stresses that Mali’s cotton is among the highest quality in the world and what it needs is foreign investment.