ACCRA, GHANA — Sitting in one of Accra's never-ending traffic jams, the billboard with its image of sizzling, succulent chicken legs catches the eye. "American poultry," the caption proclaims, "Quick and easy to cook. Healthy and delicious to eat."
It is a message that sticks in the throat of the thousands of Ghanaian poultry farmers being squeezed out of business by frozen foreign imports.
"We consider it an act of dumping," says Ken Quartey, chairman of Ghana's National Association of Poultry Farmers, referring to the process of exporting surplus goods at a lower price than what a company normally charges in its home market.
Although American and European chicken farmers do not receive direct subsidies, the grains used to feed their birds do qualify for state aid, and this indirect assistance puts the African farmers at a disadvantage. "Even after shipping it over and the retail markup, the imported chicken can sometimes be 40 percent cheaper than birds reared here in Ghana," explained Mr. Quartey, who has had to lay off 50 workers this year alone.
Global imports of chicken into Ghana are ten times what they were a decade ago. After much lobbying from the industry, which directly employs an estimated 10,000 people, Ghana's government agreed to double tariffs on imported chicken to 40 percent.
However, in March this year, using emergency legislation, parliament overturned the hikes in a move government officials, trade campaigners, and poultry farmers alike attribute to pressure from the International Monetary Fund, which sits atop a pyramid of donors on whom Ghana relies for 45 percent of its money.
So what's a West African poultry farmer to do? Quartey believes the key to pressuring the World Trade Organization into cutting them some slack is banding together and speaking out.
Across the region in Senegal, it is clear that poultry farmers are facing the same problems, and have identified the same causes.
In the sandy village of Kounoune, Badara Diop, a father of eight, had to give up the poultry business because he couldn't make ends meet.
"If I bought a sack of chicken feed, I would have nothing to put on the table for my own children," he says.
Down the road, Souleymane Dem has just lost his job at another back-yard poultry farm. The farm's owner Rokhaya Diouf feels bad, but she's had to let people go before.
"My own woes have had an economic impact on the village, for sure," she says, gesturing at four empty chicken sheds.