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International Federation Agricultural Producers want Access

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Wisconsin Farmers Union President, Sue Beitlich has just returned from the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP) executive meetings in Uruguay. Beitlich is one of nine executive members of the Committee on Women in Agriculture and the only one from the United States. A total of 34 women from 15 countries discussed ways to improve leadership abilities and opportunities for rural women. “We have so many similarities,” says Beitlich, “And the message that kept coming through was - it’s about farm income.” Beitlich says farmers around the world want access to markets and, “Global concentration with multi-national corporations that don’t allow access to markets and drive the price down.”

The main focus of her group was the importance of women in world agriculture, Beitlich cites the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that women are responsible for half of the world’s food production, 60 to 80% of the food produced in most developing countries. Despite those facts, Beitlich says women are not considered farmers in many countries, “Women are not taken seriously, they’re undervalued and overlooked for rural leadership roles.” She says here in the U.S., women generally work as equal partners in a majority of farming operations, “But in developing countries they definitely are the farmers.” She adds those women also represent a disproportionate amount of the rural poor, “Seventy percent of the rural poor are women and their principle source of income is agriculture.”

One of the big topics of discussion was the current round of world trade talks. IFAP has representatives at the talks, Beitlich says the organization cannot afford to let their guard down, “it’s not just agriculture that’s talked about at WTO, it’s many other sectors of business and often agriculture is traded away or used as a pawn.” The Stoddard, Wisconsin farmer says that is why it is so important for people like her to attend these meetings because farmers from other countries often talk about the subsidies that North American and European farmers get, but she says the don’t realize how much it costs to farm in these countries. “We have so many unfair disadvantages, they don’t realize how much our property taxes are, that we don’t have health care, many things that we have that are different.”

Beitlich thinks we could have barrier-free trade around the world, but it is not going to be easy. “First, we have to have a better understanding of access to markets around the world,” again citing concentration in agriculture as a major challenge to that. She says the only way it will work is if farmers control their destiny. And what about the Free Trade of the Americas effort? “They don’t like that,” Beitlich says the South American countries like the current deals they are involved in, “They all know it is based upon whomever produces that lowest priced food, that lowest priced commodity,” She says with that design, “We’re all losers and they realize who defines what family farmers are and who produces the food is being decided by large corporations.”
 

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