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Africans urged to eat locally

KATIBOUGOU, July 9  – While the Group of Eight wealthy nations get together to discuss the food crisis in Japan, an African anti-globalist meeting stressed Africans could help themselves by eating local products.

An enticing people’s market with locally produced rice, mangoes, traditional medicines and African clothes is part of the so-called "poor people’s summit" in Katibougou, Mali, held as a counterbalance to the G8 summit.

In the dusty West African town activists are helping both farmers and craftsmen promote their own products.

"They speak of a food crisis, but look, there is food. The problem is that people still prefer to eat what comes from abroad instead of local produce," said Oumar Diakite, who represents textile workers in Mali.

Based in a little square close to the Soviet-built agricultural college, the market swarms with people — men and women, young and old. Fresh produce is piled high.

"It’s a real problem. There are African nations that subsidise products from abroad. That’s killing our local products," said Diakite, who also criticised the privatisation of the cotton industry, one of Mali’s main earners.

"Our leaders, acting alongside foreign capitalists, are killing the cotton industry. You are going to have thousands of farmers unemployed," he lamented.

On one side of the market, a potential customer is discussing mangoes with the fruit traders. Mali is one of the main producers of mangoes in West Africa.

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"There are so many mangoes here but we have two big problems: storage and export markets," said Ninbou, head of a local women’s group.

"The main problem is not production, we need exports. Otherwise it’s not worth the trouble," she said, accusing the country’s leaders of not doing enough to help them.

The shea butter sellers, for their part, are much better off. For several years they have benefited from a European Union directive that allows their product — made from the nuts of the shea or karite tree — to be used in chocolate.

"Yes, for us business is going well," said one seller. "Our products are all over Europe. In Germany and in France there are associations that help us."

The Group of Eight — which comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States — on Tuesday set a five-year deadline to provide 60 billion dollars to fight disease in Africa.

The leaders also reconfirmed a promise made three years ago in Gleneagles, Scotland for the G8 to double aid to Africa by 25 billion dollars by 2010.

In Katibougou there are no such monetary promises but what participants lacked in resources, they made up for in solidarity, with volunteers helping where they could.

"It’s not rocket science. We may curse the (rich) North, but first we have to get our own house in order," said Nouhoun Keita, an anti-globalisation campaigner.

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