Farmers Need to be Paid a Fair Price for Their Produce to Stay in Business - Food

Farmers Need to be Paid a Fair Price for Their Produce to Stay in Business   by Alison Withers

in Food    (submitted 2011-07-10)

Copyright (c) 2011 Alison Withers

Consumers want to control the costs of weekly food shopping as they struggle to make ends meet in the aftermath of the global economic crisis.

In a country where four big supermarket chains control 80% of the food retail trade the supermarkets respond to shoppers' need to economise by offering special multiple deals, such as two-for-one offers and discounted prices on some products but the drawbacks are that these can encourage us to buy more than perhaps we can use and therefore some of what we buy is wasted.

Equally serious is that they are able to make these offers only by passing on production and packaging costs via their food processors and suppliers to the producers, the farmers.

Farmers in the UK have recently highlighted the problems they have in getting even a break-even price for their produce in a system where there are no written contracts between farmer and supplier and these intermediaries have binding contracts at fixed prices with the retailers regardless of changes to packaging and production costs.

It is estimated that 3000 small and medium sized UK farmers have been driven into poverty and out of business in the last decade.

The Government introduced legislation in 2010 creating a code of practise to ensure that retailers pay a fair price for farmers' produce, but there are many who argue that without the creation of an ombudsman with the power to investigate complaints from farmers and enforce fairness little will change.

It makes no sense to be forcing farmers out of business in the midst of increasing worries about food scarcity, shortages and food security across the world and with pressure on famers to not only increase production to cater for the projected rise in population but to do so in a way that is environmentally sustainable.

This problem is not confined to the UK. It affects small farmers everywhere and it raises the question of just how fair the Fairtrade movement's prices to farmers can be made to be, something that will be important to ethical consumers.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation has just appointed a new director general, Jose Graziano, from Brazil. He will face several challenges, among them deciding what to do about foreign investment in agriculture and large-scale land acquisitions and also about staying in touch with the latest in scientific and technical knowledge.

This latter is information the FAO could pass on to farmers through its many projects across the world. A good example is the growing number of environmentally friendly low-chem agricultural products coming from the biopesticides developers' laboratories.

The FAO is in a good position to work with governments across the world to make training in their use, and affordable supplies available to their own small farmers and this could eventually benefit the farmers in getting a reasonable return for their efforts.