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A Dollar A Day: The Price of Cotton
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A Dollar A Day: The Price of Cotton
Factors such as government subsidies, overproduction, and even currency exchange rates are steadily depressing the price of cotton worldwide. Ultimately, it is farmers living in places like Mali and Texas who are impacted the most. But can they do anything to change the situation?
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Segment 1

TITLE
EMF Films and Global Visions & Associates present
TITLE
A Dollar A Day
MAN
The cotton farmers got together to discuss the price of cotton. They wanted to charge a higher price. Otherwise they would stop growing cotton. They refused to sell their crop to the government even if the cotton were to simply lie and rot instead. We blockaded the road where the truck comes to pick up the cotton. We put trees across the road. There were soldiers in the truck. They cleared the road. We said that the truck couldn't go any further. The soldiers began to beat us up. They were hitting us very hard. It was God's will that my father was beaten the worst. Especially his head got badly smashed. When he came out of hospital we gave him traditional medicine, but that didn't help. In the end he died from his injuries.
TITLE
The Price of Cotton
TITLE
A film by Karin Junger
TITLE
Lubbock, USA
RADIO COMMERCIAL
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JAMES MACHA
This is one of the particular fields that we have that's the higher production farms. This particular farm has tapes buried under the ground and it waters it from underground.
INTERVIEWER
All this is yours?
JAMES MACHA
Yes.
INTERVIEWER
It's big.
JAMES MACHA
This is 80 acres. I don't know how many hectares that would be, but it's Deltapine 555. It's a genetically altered seed that has both insect and herbicide resistance. These are the varieties that bring a better price in the market.
VOICEOVER
Historically, cotton has played a controversial role in the lives of millions of people around the world.
TITLE
Molobala, Mali
VOICEOVER
The continuing controversy now centers around the price of cotton in the global marketplace, and represents the larger world trade battle for access to fair markets.
SEDOU DEMBELE
The government is not fond of us farmers. The government has never helped us. That's always been the case. It must be God's will.
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
The problems started once the cotton was sold on the world market. Then the price went down. The price dropped because the United States give subsidies. But cotton growers aren't that important in the United States. But the African countries, who farm to survive, don't have a chance as a result. There is a large organization that coordinates the world market. Within that organization subsidies are discussed. This organization is called the WTO. Have you ever heard of it?
SEDOU DEMBELE
No, never.
NEWS REPORT
The institute for agriculture is organizing a conference on the use of biotechnology in agriculture. Recently, biotechnology has made it possible to cultivate genetically modified organisms. This gives hope, but also controversy.
MAN
And finally, cotton. And, of the major players, perhaps the one that's of most immediate interest. Of those who chose to plant it, you can see that herb control -- uh, weed control, excuse me -- in general, is the major reason for planting such a crop. And, of course, it is the whole point of the technology. However, greater yield would be a secondary reason, or the desire to control specific weeds.
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
My name is Ibrahima Coulibaly. I am a farmer. I am a member of the AOPP, the farmers' union of Mali. I am very happy to be present at this meeting. I only heard about it yesterday. It seemed a good idea to attend because what will be discussed here is particularly important for farmers. Eighty percent of Malians are farmers. Eighty percent of the Malian farmers are illiterate. Political decisions affecting them are made without any consultation. But this time we have decided that our voice will be heard. It is not about us wanting biotechnology or not. Give the farmers water, give them manure and equipment. Fifty-five percent of the farmers don't even have plows or oxen. That is the real problem, not biotechnology.
SEDOU DEMBELE
I got married last year, in 2003. I want to marry other women as well. I will have more children that way. We want many children. It's good to have many children. The kids will then have to work on my land.
TITLE
Bamako, Mali
VOICEOVER
The educated son of a civil servant, Ibrahima Coulibaly is angry at the unfair cotton market, and that it was imposed on Malian farmers at the expense of growing other crops they need. He is determined to give his countrymen a voice.
SIGN
Association des Organisations Professionnelles Paysanne (AOPP)
MAN
Shall I arrange a meeting with her?
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
No, you talk to her. I don't have time.
MAN
Okay, this is it.
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
"Petition for fair trade." We want to collect 300,000 signatures for the next WTO convention in Hong Kong.
RADIO COMMERCIAL
We live where you live, we're State Farm neighbor in your neighborhood. We share the same hopes, the same dreams. We face the same challenges. That's why when it comes to helping you protect all you work for, nobody does it better than your neighborhood State Farm Insurance.
ROGER HALDENBY [Vice President of Operations, Plains Cotton Growers]
I work for Plains Cotton Growers, and Plains Cotton Growers is the organization that represents cotton producers in the high plains of Texas. There's about four and a half million acres of cotton production in this area with, we think about 25,000 cotton farmers, and we work to represent them with legislative activities in Washington and Austin. Austin's the state capital of Texas. So that we work for them, representing them, in all legislative and regulatory issues and then we communicate back with them what's going on in the world outside of Texas.
TONY ST. JAMES [Radio Announcer]
This is the Agribusiness Report from the farm station All Ag All Day, 900 KFLP. Tony St. James, and joined today by our special guest. He's the Vice President of Operations for Plains Cotton Growers in Lubbock: Roger Haldenby. Roger, welcome back to the show.
ROGER HALDENBY
Well, thanks Tony. As always, it's a pleasure to be with you.
TONY ST. JAMES
Roger, today we wanted to focus on an area I think that most cotton producers are very interested in, and very concerned with, the recent WTO dispute panel ruling in favor of the Brazilians against the US cotton industry. And there's some concern right now, so let's start by identifying some of the support that ... well, all of the support that's there, right now, through the cotton subsidies. What are those?
ROGER HALDENBY
Well, one of the major areas of support that other countries are calling subsidies is the loan program, and that's where the American cotton farmer is guaranteed the equivalent of 52 cents on base-quality cotton for every pound. And that's achieved that whenever the adjusted world price is down lower than that loan price of 52 cents, what's called a loan deficiency payment is made. Currently, with the world price at around 34 cents, that means 18 cents a pound in support brings the price to the farmer back up to a base price of 52 cents. And then there's a couple of other kinds of payments, which get a little bit complicated to explain. But a direct payment, which stays steady, of about six or so cents per pound, and then what's called a counter-cyclical payment, which while prices are low, it's at its maximum. Then as the market price goes up, gradually, that counter-cyclical payment disappears, Tony. So there's those three forms of support that have been deemed by the folks in the World Trade Organization in some other countries as being unfair because they don't have the same system in their own countries.
SOULEMAN DIARRA
Ibrahima Coulibaly, I'd like to ask you something. It's about the farmers and those who support them: What would you like to do for them? What are your plans?
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
Souleman Diarra, thank you. You know the farmers are organized in the AOPP and the CNOP. The largest unions of Mali now work together. We are going to discuss the problems in Mali and the regions. In Africa we are making a plan to tackle the problems. Many countries are united in an organization called the WTO. This organization controls the world market. Last year, a WTO summit was held in the city of Cancun, in Mexico. In Cancun we discussed problems relevant to the cotton sector. The organizations active in Cancun have started a campaign to collect 100 million signatures. Everybody has to understand what's at stake. Why are we not succeeding in escaping from poverty? This is because the international market is not fair. That's why poverty is on the increase. We have to take a stand against this. These are the forms. People who can't write can put their fingerprints. You can hand them out and start collecting signatures. This is how we can mobilize people and make them aware. You will get cassettes in your own language to distribute. In Bambara, Sonrai, Peul. This one is in Peul. This is Bambara and that one is Sonrai. You can get them in French too.
TONY ST. JAMES
We've already talked about the criticism, some of it coming from Brazil, which brought the WTO dispute in the first place, but there are also others who continue to criticize that. From the farmer's perspective, is that criticism fair?
ROGER HALDENBY
Looking at the cotton farmer in Mali or Burkina Faso or Benin or other African countries, they're working under a completely different system and political regime than we're working under, but our farmers and their farmers face the same personal problems on a daily production level. It's the political regime that's in place and the help that America gives its farmers, is something that folks in other countries are, basically, probably jealous of.

Segment 2

VOICEOVER
For farmers like Sedou Dembele, there is no basis for comparison, because he knows neither the history nor the current reality of the global cotton market. Limited information, infrastructure, communication networks and a high rate of illiteracy combine with harsh conditions and primitive technology to deny Sedou access to fair pricing.
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
Colonial governments needed cotton for their growing textile industries. Africa had the right climate for cultivating cotton. That's why farmers were forced to cultivate cotton. Often people were beaten when they didn't supply enough cotton. That's how it started. Independence offered us the chance to make a strategic choice to liberate the African farmer. But it never happened. The elite, educated during colonialism, that came to power never developed an alternative. They did the same as the colonizers. We cultivated cotton and sold it to the former colonizers to help develop its national economy. Farmers in Mali cultivate cotton, not because they want to but because otherwise they can't get a loan for manure and herbicides and whatever else they need to produce their own food.
FELIX MACHA [James's Father]
When I was a kid, we lived way out in the country, was a long ways from town. We didn't have a car. We had horses and wagons and some farm equipment. The family used to pick the cotton, we'd go out in the fields and pick cotton and Dad would hire some help. We thought we did pretty good. We had what our neighbors had, and shucks, we were happy. The standard of living just kept going up, you know, and up, and that was good. We didn't worry about the price of cotton and stuff, much. We pretty well had ... knew we had a profit in it; all we had to do was raise it, you know. So we felt pretty comfortable that way. But now it's a different ballgame. You can raise all you want, but, if you can't get a price for it ... well, it's kinda like this: nothing times nothing is still nothing, you know.
JAMES MACHA
Our textile mills are closing here in the United States, so we're no longer producing materials here. Our raw product has to go elsewhere, has to be exported, in order to find a market for it. There's no local market, or ... it has to go on the international market now. And that's a concern. I don't see it getting any better. So I would say that I'm ...
FELIX MACHA
A little bit pessimistic.
JAMES MACHA
I fear for the future of farming in the United States.
VOICEOVER
While James fears for the future of farming in the U.S., Ibrahima fears for the future of his continent. Like many poor countries, Mali must export its cash crop, cotton, to pay off its international debts, leaving little at home to support its own industries, basic infrastructure, and, thereby, the wellbeing of its people.
TITLE
Nangola, Mali
VOICEOVER
This deep concern keeps Ibrahima constantly on the move. While farmers work the fields, he travels from village to village, seeking leaders, spreading information, building a network, encouraging action, and sometimes stealing a moment of respite to escape the scorching heat. When night falls and the heat subsides, Ibrahima gathers farmers by firelight to eat, to learn, and to strategize.
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
The USA is turning the world upside down. They want to control everything.
FARMER
Exactly.
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
They want to own the whole world. They do anything to make a profit. They want more cars, TVs, and refrigerators. That's why they want to control the world. But you can't cause such damage only to better yourself. They want everybody to be their slave. They are using our leaders as well and they are manipulating you. We have to stop voting for leaders who don't care about us. We must stop voting against our own interests.
FARMER
Yes, we are stupid asses.
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
No, but knowledge comes gradually. Nobody is an ass. Everyone is equal. Farmers are always asses.
FARMER
Now is the time to say that's not true. We need to work together for a better future. That's what we are trying, but others don't think it's necessary. They are the real asses.
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
But we are slowly moving forward.
FARMER
I'm not going to live long enough to see that happen.
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
It will be alright. All countries are slowly making progress. We are collecting signatures. All the farmers are signing. We're going to present the signatures to the government. This is a petition. Everybody should sign with his surname. If you can't, just sign with a fingerprint. If many people sign this petition the government has to listen to us. They do the same in Europe and America.
TONY ST. JAMES
I think one of the big criticisms is that the subsidies distort the world marketplace, the price of cotton. How would the U.S. farm industry come back and argue against that?
ROGER HALDENBY
Well, I think that I would argue back that any intervention by any government is going to have some effect on the price, and I'm sure that the American cotton support has some effect. But so does the way that China manipulates its currency for its own benefit when it's buying cotton on the world market. The way that in Mali and Benin and Burkina Faso that farmers are paid for their cotton is not based on a world market price, it's based on a price that the government decides to pay. So it's a matter of all of these government supports, of one form or another, in all of these countries, whether it's Brazilian support, Chinese, Mali, Benin, Burkina Faso, Uzbekistan. There is some form of government intervention in all of those countries which are ... is upsetting the free market situation.
VOICEOVER
For the average cotton farmer like Sedou, who owns seven acres, the annual profit is around $200 after usual expenses such as fertilizer, pesticides, and a sprayer. From his meager income, he must repay his loans, buy and maintain his equipment, livestock, and household items, and pay for food, transportation, and medical costs. And, in this arid country, if the rains don't come, farmers are left with only hopes and prayers.
SEDOU DEMBELE
You're a sacrifice to the spirits, chick. We need a tractor. I hope that we'll get one if we sacrifice you.
MAN
Alright, ready.
FAMILY
Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Amen. Bless us, oh Lord, and these, thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty. Through Christ Our Lord, Amen. Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Amen.
MAN
Alright. Dig in.
VOICEOVER
Ibrahima has refused to grow cotton, both because it does not yield profits, and because of his strong political stand. Instead, he has chosen to grow bananas.
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
Every child who has had the opportunity to get a good education should serve his country. Not by way of charity but it is his duty. A country can't develop if the majority of its people live in poverty. Since independence, our countries have actually been in a decline. We underdevelop ourselves. The standard of living of farmers is going down. People can't afford any food containing animal proteins. Some can't afford a kilo of meat in a whole year. They try to compensate a bit with beans and vegetable proteins. I think it's disgraceful.
SEDOU DEMBELE
This cotton is 15 days old. But there hasn't been any rain. That's why the plants are so small. The roots are very weak. They stay small. It doesn't rain.
VOICEOVER
Ibrahima is only one man, but his message is carried through the farmers' grass roots organization he helped establish. Via word of mouth and homemade tape recordings, his determination and courage become the voice of many and stir them to take action in demand of their rights.
SOULEMAN DIARRA
With respect to the farmers and the people who support them: What would you like to do for them? What is it all about?
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
Souleman Diarra, thank you. You know that the farmers are organized in the AOPP and the CNOP. The largest unions of Mali now work together. We are going to discuss the problems in Mali and the regions. In Africa we are making a plan to tackle the problems. Many countries are united in an organization called the WTO.
MAN
If you want to show your anger, you have to take action. This is our weapon. That's how our leaders can see that we will stand up for ourselves. And if they see that we will stand up for ourselves they will take steps. This is the paper. We have listened to the cassette. Everybody understands. This is the paper. Everybody puts down their surname. I sign because I agree with what it says here.

Segment 3

INTERVIEWER
If the subsidies are abolished, what happens to you?
JAMES MACHA
We're through, pretty much. It ... there won't be any agriculture out there other than what you see. Where it's cotton, it'll probably be pasture.
INTERVIEWER
And what would you do?
JAMES MACHA
I haven't got that far yet.
INTERVIEWER
Are you afraid of that?
JAMES MACHA
Oh, yeah. And it's a very real possibility. But it's one that I hope we don't ever have to see.
VOICEOVER
For James, who manages approximately 6,000 acres of cotton watered by a costly irrigation system and planted and harvested by dozens of heavy-duty machines, his capital expenses are enormous. So even with a 20 percent government handout amounting in some cases to over $300,000 a year, farmers like James depend on that subsidy to make a profit.
JAMES MACHA
It's always in the back of your mind. Continuously, you wonder what's gonna happen, but like I say you don't ... you can't worry about it all the time. Otherwise you wouldn't get anything done. You just wait and see what's gonna happen.
INTERVIEWER
And what do you think of the criticism? They say the U.S. growers get so much support, and that distorts the market. It's not fair because, for instance, African farmers do not get this support.
JAMES MACHA
Right. Well, if you have what your neighbor has, you should be happy. It wasn't until television was invented that anybody knew what was going on in other places. I think if you can make ... if you can continue to produce and provide a living for your family, well, that's fair and equitable. But it would ... if we're no longer allowed price support, well, we can no longer provide for our families here. So, that's not fair either.
VOICEOVER
Ibrahima has discovered a viable seed crop called "bisap," a byproduct of the hibiscus flower that yields a tasty and healthy drink akin to lemonade, is a soil nutrient effective in crop rotation, and yields a healthy profit.
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
This is bisap. In the Bambara language we call it "dablenie" and it's like garden sorrel in English. Another word for it is "carcade." The leaves are used in cooking, especially in sauces. It makes for a slightly sour or tart taste. And the flowers are used to make a refreshing, red-colored drink. The color of grenadine. This plant is gaining in popularity in Africa. We feel that it needs neither fertilizers nor pesticides. It's an eco-friendly crop and so a good alternative to cotton. Because in this area, agriculture has become dependent on cotton. And since cotton has encountered problems on the world market as a result of actions by the U.S. for instance, life has become very hard for us. The association of farmers' interests has decided to try out alternative crops, testing them and then selecting the crop that give the best results. Amara, I have good news. I told you about bisap. That's why I bring you these seeds. The seeds I have here I give to you. You have to hand them out to the rest of your community. Everybody who wants to join can have some. I'm not saying we have to stop growing cotton, but this is more profitable.
MAN 1
Five, six, seven, eight, nine. They're not fair shares. What about you?
MAN 2
I'll take this.
MAN 3
May God bless us and give us much water. In the name of God and the prophet Mohammed.
PRIEST
Let us rise and show that we are one family in joining our hands together.
CHURCH GOERS
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and deliver us from evil.
PRIEST
Saint Paul says in the Corinthians we should try to be grateful for everything. That means everything. As well as for our computers, as well as for our TVs, as well as for our beautiful tractors, for all the equipment that we use in the cotton field, for everything that God has blessed us with, we should be grateful. It was a big difference in the days to work in the cotton field and to fill a bag with cotton, to strip it with your own hands. We are so grateful to God for this bumper crop of the cotton this year. Because we need the rain in everything that we needed for this year. We were looking forward for the greatest harvest. But now, we are kind of waiting. Will God bless us with some sunshine, as today, that we are able to bring this beautiful harvest in? Not only that we hope that the cotton harvest will be great, we also hope that it is a good price. Because also God blessed China with a great bumper crop. So we are in competition.
CHOIR
Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on Earth. Lord God, heavenly king, almighty God and Father. Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on Earth. We worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory. Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on Earth. You are seated at the right hand of the Father, receive our prayer, receive our prayer. For you alone are the holy one, you alone are the Lord. Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on Earth. Amen.
COTTON PICKERS
It is not good to be selfish in Mali. It is not good to be selfish in Mali. Father says that the good times are over. It is not good to be selfish in Mali. Once we were slaves, but not any more. Democracy has come and Mali is waiting for prosperity. Democracy has come and Mali is waiting for prosperity. Our concern was the price of cotton. Let us solve our problems together. Where can we find dignity in Mali? We find dignity by working the land. We find our dignity in our education. We find our dignity in the education of the elders. We derive dignity from paying tax.
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
How do you do? Very nice to meet you. Hello, Sahel Vert crew. Thank you for picking the cotton. The sun is blazing and the work is tough. Growing cotton is not an easy life. Together we have to show the government that we want change. We need 100 million or 200 million signatures to show at the next WTO meeting that we don't agree. You are the eldest. That's why I hand you this cassette. You can listen to it and tell others about it.
MAN
The government decides on the price. We have no say.
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
Only you can change it. If we keep on waiting for help, nothing will happen.
MAN
We have to pay the price ourselves.
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
Everyone is waiting for things to get better, but no one dares to speak out. We have to organize ourselves. We have to form a large union, otherwise it will all go wrong.
VOICEOVER
The struggle for fair market prices becomes moot in the face of worldwide overproduction of cotton, which causes its constant reduction in value. For the Mali cotton farmer, it's a desperate situation, since the issue is not profit, but simply survival. Who is going to listen? When?
INTERVIEWER
What will happen if this doesn't work? If you don't achieve any success?
IBRAHIMA COULIBALY
Then Africa will disappear. I have no illusions about this. Since gaining independence, Africa has encountered more and more problems. The soil can't feed the growing population. There are no jobs outside agriculture. If agriculture collapses there will be war everywhere. It isn't strange that warlords in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo, and Zaire can form such large armies. People can't live from agriculture. It's as simple as that. Anyone with a sufficient income will not fight. People with nothing to eat pick up weapons and follow warlords. If our leaders can't understand these simple things and continue to follow guidelines from the U.S. and the EU although they don't do us any good our countries will slide into an apocalyptic war.
TITLE
[end credits]