How Can Farmers Get A Fairer Deal From the Supermarkets to Be Able to …

More than 70% of the UK’s grocery market is in the hands of the “big four” supermarket chains (Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda and Morrisons). That method they are the most likely customers for overseas producers and it gives them enormous buying strength. With it comes the ability to force down prices for farmers and farm workers.

Of course, consumers play their part by expecting to buy food cheaply and because it’s a cut-throat business the retailers respond. These two stories from African and Costa Rica, or similar ones, will be familiar to many of us:

“I get 378 Rand [£32.50] pay every two weeks. I can’t provide school fees for my daughter or go to school roles or buy school uniforms” Tawana, a “long-lasting casual” labourer on a pear farm supplying Tesco (source ActionAid)

“They called us all to a meeting and they said that we would all be laid off the next day. They then rehired us for nearly half the wages.” – Costa Rican banana worker on a plantation supplying Tesco (source ActionAid)

The pressure on suppliers to deliver more for less is passed on to workers in the form of low wages, job insecurity and poor working conditions. Around the world, farm income is plummeting, pushing farmers off the land and into destitution. Workers and farmers are not the only ones who are under pressure – before it gets to the supermarket shelves food has to be processed, transported and in some situations packaged.

Take the example of the price of a pack of cashew nuts – the price includes the shares of the farmer (15%), processing workers (1%) processing company (5%), transport/wastage (2%), UK importer (12%), roaster/salter company (20%) and finally Supermarkets (45%). (Information from ActionAid 2007)

It’s plainly an unbalanced and loaded trading relationship and as these figures demonstrate most of what we pay for food goes to the non-farmers in the chain. According to an online report by Corporatewatch already in the UK farmers truly receive only 9p of every £1 spent on food by consumers.

The report demonstrates that most of the money in the food system goes into the pockets of companies in the processing and retailing secotrs, which are dominated by large multinational food corporations like Nestle, Unilever and Altria (Kraft Foods) and the big supermarkets like Carrefour, Tesco and Asda? Wal-Mart.

It’s obvious that this form of food provision is unsustainable. It leads to imbalances such as the mountains of food that are thrown away or wasted in high nations while people continue to starve across the rest of the planet because the centralisation of food sales by large retail units doesn’t explain need. It also method small farmers across the world are under pressure to adventure their land to the maximum to compete with larger and more powerful global agribusinesses.

If the smaller farmers have no help, such as access to safe, natural biopesticides and provide enhancers, or the financial resources to buy them, or access to training in integrated pest management and sustainable farming methods, they confront ruining the fertility of the land on which they depend for a living. This state of affairs appals the CEO of one of the world’s largest companies researching and developing the new low-chem agricultural products such as biopesticides.

He says it is scandalous that in such a different and high world so many people nevertheless suffer malnutrition and starvation and that without of the ability to invest and of resources average that many developing world farmers are faced with an unacceptable choice between producing enough food and draining their land of precious goodness in the effort to do so.

in addition it doesn’t have to be this way. In 2007 Tradecraft reported that the Co-op swapped all its ‘own brand’ chocolate to Fairtrade and saw its sales rise by 30% almost closest

In January 2010 the possibility of creating a Supermarket Watchdog was raised again – more than two years after the Competition Commission advised that there was an urgent need to create a fair food chain for UK and overseas farmers, workers and consumers.

No matter who forms the next Government after the UK’s 2010 election, the question is whether the politicians will have the political will and the strength to stand up to the strength of the food industry’s supermarkets and powerful multinationals.

Copyright (c) 2010 Alison Withers

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