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Canadian study shows that 'structural adjustment' policies adjust many farmers out of business

via The Agribusiness Examiner

(Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- The term "structural adjustment" is most commonly used to describe the onerous "free market" programs imposed on highly-indebted developing nations by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund as conditions for receiving further loans. But a new Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) study finds that Canada's agricultural industry has also been structurally adjusted, with the same disastrous results that similar programs have inflicted on poor countries around the world.

Written by Darrin Qualman and Nettie Wiebe, the study --- The Structural Adjustment of Canadian Agriculture -- concludes that "two decades of structural adjustment have devastated farm families and rural communities."

The authors describe the various ways that Canadian agriculture has been transformed to meet market demands and promote the interests of large agribusiness corporations at the expense of farmers and farm communities.

"Many Canadians think that the IMF and World Bank impose their structural adjustment programs only on debt-ridden Third World nations. But the Canadian government has restructured agriculture and rural Canada by using policy tools remarkably similar to those of the IMF/World Bank. These tools include the WTO, NAFTA, deregulation, privatization, cuts in government subsidies, increased foreign investment, and a much greater emphasis on production for export."

The study finds that these policies are almost identical to the main components of an IMF-style structural adjustment program, and that the intent is also the same: to accelerate the transfer of wealth from local farmers to transnational corporations. Each of these policies is examined, and their detrimental effects on farmers and their communities starkly detailed.

"Structural adjustment programs around the world have served to concentrate wealth in fewer hands, drive small farmers into bankruptcy, and force migration from rural areas to the cities. All of these effects are discernible in Canadian agriculture.

"Between 1981 and 2001, the number of farms in Canada declined from 318,361 to 246,923, a drop of 22%. In just the past five years (1996 to 2001), Canada lost 11% of its farmers. The farm income crisis has decimated many rural communities. The profits in the food production system are increasingly going to transnationals with head offices in distant (and mostly foreign) cities.

"The farm crisis in Canada and around the world is caused by the corporate-driven extraction of wealth from the rural areas. Structural adjustment removes the barriers to such extraction and accelerates the outflow of profits and wealth."

Qualman and Wiebe accuse the Canadian government of using the tools of free trade agreements and other neocon policies to "turn the country's farm families over to the market. Since the 1980s, Ottawa has systematically imposed a radical restructuring on Canadian farmers and rural Canada. The result has been a seven-fold increase in exports, a transfer of the agri-food processing sector to foreign transnationals, the decimation of rural communities, and the worst farm income crisis since the 1930s."

The study warns that the toll of this structural adjustment goes far beyond the impoverishment of many farm families and the loss of their communities. "It includes human, cultural, and environmental costs which all Canadians, no matter where they may live, must pay. Structural adjustment of this magnitude forces everyone to adjust to greater economic instability, less democratic control, depletion of natural resources, and an increased dependence on a few corporate giants for jobs, investment, and even food.

"For Canadian farm families --- as for peasants and farmers everywhere --- structural adjustment often means being adjusted out of their way of making a living by growing food. It's an adjustment right out of their way of life."

Darrin Qualman is executive secretary of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) and a research associate with the CCPA. Nettie Wiebe teaches at the University of Saskatchewan and is a former NFU President.

Editor's note: Darrin Qualman mentioned some of the information from this study for a CropChoice story about Bunge, available at http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?recid=904