Chicken Industry

Africa – the garbage dump of Europe

Maurice Oudet is a missionary in the Sahel country of Burkina Faso. Since 20 years he works to improve the lot of the rural population. On the way to a meeting of a farmers union he and his friends stopped in a small village to order a chicken for lunch. In stead of the usual tough but tasty half chicken, they were served a formless and tasteless fricassee. The owner of the eating place, seeing their surprise, hurried to explain that these were “poulets congelées”, frozen chicken straight from the blessed lands of Europe.

How has a deep frozen chicken out of the poultry farms of Europe managed to chase the local rooster from the menu of an up-country restaurant in middle of Africa? The story of the frozen chicken goes back to the years when Europeans started to worry about oversize and cholesterol. Women’s magazines and cooking books no longer recommended half chicken, but only the leaner parts. What to do with the rest? For years the remains were fed to our cows till the BSE crisis convinced us that this was not such a good idea. You can’t just throw away dead chicken, you have to burn them and that is costly. Obvious the next best idea is to export them at throw-away-prices, which becomes even more profitable when the European Union pays you a substantial export subsidy. And so Europe’s chicken reach African markets at half the price of the cost price of local producers. Housewives are the same the world over, they buy what they can get for the best price, even more so if they have just one Euro a day to feed the family. Add to this the fact that most of these local chicken farmers had built up their small businesses with loans from EU development programmes and you begin to grasp the absurdities and contradictions of European policies. EU trade policies destroy what EU development grants try to build up.

Cameroon is a good example to understand the disastrous effects of European dumping practices. In 1994 Cameroon imported about 60 tons of poultry. In 1996 the country joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and accepted to liberalised trade. By 2003 chicken imports had reached 22.153 tons. As a result 92% of the local producers went bankrupt, 10.000 people lost their employment and Cameroon spent 15 Million Euro hard currency to import what it had previously produced locally.

The tragedy does not end there. The traditional African rooster is transported to the market on bicycle or in big baskets on top of vehicles, is then bought alive at the market, slaughtered at home and reaches the table fresh and juicy. Europe’s frozen pieces may lie in the harbour for days before being transported under the African sun to remote places. With more days spent on a market stand it reaches the table half rotten and has collected enough salmonella and other hostile creatures to make the consumer thoroughly sick.

An official research found out that in fact some 83% of imported chicken on Cameroon’s markets are not fit for human consumption. Even the though stomachs of people in Cameroon realised this when they came home from burials and marriage parties where such chicken are a favourite dish. And their stomachs but they themselves revolted, organised themselves into an efficient “Association for the defence of the interests of the citizen” and began a countrywide campaign. Newspaper headings read: “Africa – the garbage dump of Europe!” and posters denounced frozen chicken as “a deadly danger to our health, our producers and our economy”. Even politicians who are usually hardened to public opinion could no longer ignore the message. President Biya who rules the country since just 22 years and was facing an election at the time imposed an import tax to give local producers a new chance.

In the meantime the chicken revolution has spread to Ghana where local farmers carried their chicken to parliament to force the deputes to vote a law to protect local markets. EU bureaucrats in Brussels were not amused and put such pressure on president Kuofor that he did not sign the bill. The EU accepted some improvement. In future exporter will be responsible for their products till they reach the consumer, not only inside Europe, but even abroad.

The chicken scandal just illustrates the far larger problem of the dire consequences of the unfair trade policies of the European Union and the USA. They dump their heavily subsidised agricultural surpluses unto the world market at throw-away-prices and thereby destroy the local markets of some three billion subsistence farmers worldwide who live off the land. Unless these subsidies are not removed and dumping practices stopped, all talk about poverty reduction remains empty talk.

Wolfgang Schonecke
Netzwerk Afrika Germany