June 21, 2012 in Uncategorized
Carlos Henrique Jorge Brando and Paulo Henrique Leme
The way sustainability is presented to consumers often leads to associations with charity, poverty, family farming and deforestation. Although some of these associations are not fully wrong, the main point missed is that at the core of sustainability are good management practices (GMP) which endow growers of all sizes with the ability to produce more efficiently and to increase their income and profit that in turn ensure the ability to be socially responsible and to protect the environment. Sustainability – the ability to produce now without compromising the ability to produce in the future – starts with good management practices that, yes, combat poverty and pave the way for forest preservation but are not the sole realm of small family farmers and are very far away from charity.
Using images of poverty, child labor, and deforestation to try to convince consumers to favor sustainable agriculture and to pay for sustainable products such as coffee and cocoa may backfire altogether because, first, it encloses the risk of framing the growers of these products as mostly unsustainable and therefore turning consumers away from them and, second, it may create a relationship of charity and dependence – “I only buy to help” – that perpetuates poverty and unsustainable practices. Reality is that these products are mostly grown by farmers who naturally and intrinsically share sustainability values but sometimes lack either the knowledge or the means to grow them in a sustainable way. What sustainability codes and platforms propose is to create awareness, to disseminate knowledge and to supply the means “to raise the bar” and to promote permanent improvement to ensure future production in a more challenging world with more people and fewer natural resources available per capita. Practices that were acceptable in the past are no longer so now because of better scientific knowledge of how they may affect our future. Of course sustainability codes condemn child labor, deforestation and other bad practices but this is not to say that these practices are the norm. Much to the contrary they are the exception that should indeed be condemned.
The right, sound way to communicate sustainability is therefore positive and not negative, to present good management practices instead of exposing the exception of bad practices that may have stronger impact but also pose higher risks. The emphasis on good management practices goes beyond good agricultural practices because it includes social and environmental practices that transcend agriculture, e.g., preservation of the natural flora and paying fair wages. It is by communicating good management practices in the economic, social and environmental fields that sustainability must engage consumers concerned with the future of mankind. Sustainable management should be at the forefront of communication about sustainability and that inevitably includes technology. It is not by protecting, promoting and presenting old-fashioned inefficient production and management practices and systems that agricultures will play its role in a world that requires more production with the use of fewer resources.
Technology is often wrongly associated with large-scale farming. It is true that it is harder to develop technology for small growers but this is no to say that small farming should be condemned to use old-fashioned techniques. A farmer can be small and still use cutting edge technology because there is less and less room for labor intensive production. That is why contrary to what we see today technology should be an active part of communicating sustainability in opposition to a romantic view of farming as an old-fashioned labor intensive activity. If sustainability is to be positioned as and associated with efficiency and not charity, good management practices and modern technology must be at the core of the message to consumer. The challenge for marketing is to sell things the way they are or should be and not the way it is easier for consumers to be impressed… and deceived!
Source: Coffidential by P&A