African chicken farmers hit by Western imports

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The Independent Online

Are you a breast man or a leg man? Well next time you choose the succulent white meat, consider this. The chicken thighs and wings that Western palates reject get frozen, packed off to Africa and sold at such rock-bottom prices that thousands of local farmers are being squeezed out of business.

Rokhaya Diouf turns rigid with anger at the mere mention of the frozen drumsticks from Europe and the United States that are offloaded on Senegal's shores.

"Look at these buildings," she says, pulling me round a run-down farm in the village of Kounoune, her immaculately white traditional dress narrowly skirting the stale droppings. "They used to be full of birds! Now look at them!"

Clucking and cheeping can be heard in just two of the six buildings, and even these are only half full, despite Christmas and a Senegalese holiday being around the corner.

"The imports are killing us," Mrs Diouf says. "The African continent is already poor and now these rich countries are sending us their rejects, and making us poorer."

Trade rules and subsidies are the hub of the problem, but ask the elegant female poultry farmer what she expects from this week's WTO talks in Hong Kong and she simply shrugs her shoulders.

A recent study by the British charity Oxfam found that imported frozen chicken parts were on sale in Senegalese supermarkets for almost a third of the price of local poultry. And even at street markets, fresh home-grown chickens were still considerably more expensive than the imported meat that is often left to defrost in the sun, posing health problems as well as economic woes.

So how does local meat end up being priced out of the market by cuts that have to travel to another continent? Although chicken production does not receive any direct EU subsidies, the grains that feed European chickens do, and feed is the main expense for any poultry farmer. Take away these subsidies and the final cost of producing poultry rises exponentially, campaigners say.

"It's not dumping in the classic definition. It's disguised dumping, if you like," explained Lamine Ndiaye, who co-ordinates Oxfam's trade campaign in west Africa.

According to the Oxfam study, imports of chicken to Senegal rose from just over 1,000 tons in 1999 to almost 12,000 tons by 2003, even though local producers could meet domestic demand.