Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Whose health and whose safety?

Yesterday we posted a story about how, in its own way, the EU could be worse than a tsunami in its long-term effects on the third world.

In that story, we mentioned the plight of Kenyan farmers and, by a strange coincidence, an update of our original story, posted on 4 August, has appeared in Kenya's Standard newspaper.

It appears that the situation has got considerably worse as local horticultural producers are giving up the unequal struggle with EU-inspired red tape and their production is being taken over by importers from the industrialised countries.

These importers now control 40 percent of the export market and are threatening to lock out smallholders from the lucrative EU market, grabbing the lions’ share of the £160 million export trade in fresh fruits, vegetables and cut-flowers for themselves.

Before the horticultural export boom in the 1990s, smallholders produced 70 percent of vegetables and fruits shipped from Kenya but as the scale of exports has grown, the share has dwindled. Now the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) is worried that local producers are being marginalised by multinationals who are establishing their own farms in the developing countries.

FAO says in its 2004 report that by the end of the 1990s, 40 percent of the produce was grown on farms owned or leased directly by importers in the developed countries. Another 42 percent was produced by large commercial farmers while small-holders produced a meagre 18 per cent.

In the wake of this report comes rising anxiety that that stringent market access conditions into the EU – some of which come into force next year – are going to make the situation even worse. Most of the requirements are difficult for smallholders to meet and it is estimated that £16 million is needed to help them comply.

All farmers growing produce for the EU market must provide full evidence of traceability and demonstrate that minimum environmental and hygiene standards were observed.

It is not so much meeting the standards and producing the paperwork which is causing the problems, which are made worse by the requirement for the EU to approve the agrochemical products used – an impossible requirement for small scale farmers because all generic chemicals used locally are banned in the EU.

So much for the caring-sharing EU. With its obsession for bureaucracy, it is gradually killing off local farmers in Kenya, just as its own CAP has been progressively wiping out small farmers in EU member states. And all this is done in the name of "health 'n' safety". But whose health, and whose safety?

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