Retailers which market sustainable products without sharing any of the financial benefit with farmers are engaging in morally indefensible behaviour, a global food system conference heard this week.
Rutland farmer and consultant Sarah Bell hit out at businesses which trumpet their sustainability credentials while failing to support farmers who need cash to invest in good practices at a Financial Times summit in London this week (November 19).
The seriousness of the situation was spelled out by Corteva Agriscience vice president of global responsibility Henri Moore, another panellist at the event, who warned farmers carrying out at least three sustainable practices made ‘much less money’ and found it ‘harder to operate’, despite shoppers being willing to pay up to 20 per cent more for sustainable products.
Ms Bell said: “It is very hard for farmers who are not making money to be able to invest for the long-term and do the right thing in a sustainability context.
“What you essentially see happening in these programmes is brands talking the story of the investment they have made, without actually pushing any financial benefit back to the farmer.
“When I am talking to brands about this, I always come back to the fact that if there is not a farmer at the table when you are talking about why you are doing this, and you do not understand the equity going back to farm level, are you really doing something which is totally morally defensible.”
Han de Groot, chief executive of the Rainforest Alliance, who was also on the panel, agreed the ‘burden of sustainable practices is very much on the farmer’.
“In a way it is a good choice, because there is a lot of impact there, but if we do not share that responsibility along the food supply chain, then there is a certain end to it,” he said.
“That is why farmers need to be at the table, and why we have a multi-stakeholder definition of sustainability, so it is not purely scientific, or defined by customers at the end of the supply chain, but something we commonly agree on.
“That is very important.”