Time to stand in solidarity with farmers: ‘No farmer, no food’ is not an empty slogan

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Time to stand in solidarity with farmers: ‘No farmer, no food’ is not an empty slogan

There is no reason why the agribusiness industry cannot be made to pay the right price to growers.

Devinder Sharma
Food and agriculture expert

08 April 2024

What began as a small effort to help French dairy farmers pull out of distress has now galvanized into a unique consumer movement, slowly spreading its wings globally. Not only ensuring that the agri-food industry works towards a healthy transformation leading to sustainable and regenerative farming systems, the French food cooperative brand C’est qui le Patron (CQLP) which translates to “Who’s the Boss?” in English has now emerged as a lifeline for farmers.

For all those who believe giving a higher price to farmers distorts markets, here is a great learning. Instead of always wanting food to be cheap, consumers are willing to pay more provided they realize that the fair and remunerative price they pay supports farmers to earn a decent living, and if calibrated well can help provide them in return safe and healthy food. With consumers increasingly taking control over the food chain, this quid quo pro has only grown. This is reflected in the sales of its various products, showing an average increase of 31 per cent. And if consumers are willing to pay extra, there is no reason why the agribusiness industry cannot be made to pay the right price to growers.

This assumes importance at a time when the demand by protesting Indian farmers for legalizing Minimum Support Price (MSP) draws the ire of mainline economists, media and the middle class who fear that it will give rise to food inflation. But if consumers in France and elsewhere are voluntarily paying more realizing how the denial of a fair price kills farm livelihoods, instead of creating a fear psychosis mainline economist in India must realize that the effort should be to educate consumers on how crucial it is to ensure decent prices to farmers. By and large, consumers are sensitive to farmers’ plight and with the right kind of awareness; they can easily change consumption behaviours that forces market forces to also change.

It all began in 2016 when at a time of surplus milk production, milk prices in France crashed. This resulted in a near collapse of the French dairy industry. As dairy farmers began to pull down shutters, the farm suicide rate in the rural areas soared. It was during those difficult times that Nicolas Chabanne, who specializes in communication, met a dairy farmer Martial Darbon, who was also the president of a local dairy cooperative. Listening about the plight of the farming community, and seeing the distress that prevailed all around, the idea of bringing together consumers to support farmers took shape. “I knew it was difficult, but it was worth a try,” Nicolas, who founded the initiative, had told me.

This is where “Who’s the Boss?” was created. The objective being to support farmers by paying them a fair price. “We need everyone who feed us to be able to live with dignity,” he said. In Oct 2016, the blue carton design pack for milk was launched with the aim to ensure sale of 7-million litres of milk helping 80 families in distress. It all began by using social media to help spread the message. All that the farmer has to do is pay an enrolment fee of Euro 1, and show his commitment to follow good practices.

In a little over seven years since it began, “Who’s the Boss?” solidarity brand has sold more than 424-million litres of milk at a guaranteed fair price of 0.54 Euros per litre, which is 25 per cent higher than the market price. This has emerged now as the best-selling milk brand (along with two organic butters) in France today and is supporting (some 300 families (about 3,000 farm families for the entire product range). Unlike the price swings that markets operate under, farmers get a fixed price that does not fluctuate with market trends. Given that 38 per cent farmers earn less than the minimum wage and 26 per cent somehow survive below the poverty line in France, it is heartening to find 75 per cent people willing to add cents to their purchase as per a survey if it guarantees fair price to producers.

It started initially with milk, but over the period the brand has now extended to nearly 18 products, including organic butter, organic cottage cheese, free-range eggs, yoghurt, apple juice, apple puree, potatoes, crushed tomatoes, wheat flour, chocolate, honey, and frozen ground steak. While the cooperative assures a fair price to growers, they also have to follow healthy sustainable practices like no palm oil being used in the recipes or in the cattle feed, no genetically-modified ingredients, and grazing of animals for at least four months a year etc.

The concept is now reaching out to consumers in nine countries – Germany, Belgium, Greece, Italy, Morocco, the Netherlands, Spain, UK and the US where consumer structures have been set up with licensing agreement with the parent French company.

Considering that France imports 71 per cent of its fruit and vegetable requirements, which hits the livelihoods of local producers, Nicolas has launched a drive to help domestic farmers. “We don’t want to ship from the end of the world. We need to protect our local producers and the food they produce daily on our doorsteps. This is a precious treasure that must not disappear,” he said. To help local producers, the cooperative brand has last week introduced in its food basket three new fruit products – strawberries, asparagus, and kiwis.

At a time when the markets are trying to race to the bottom to stay competitive, “Who’s the Boss?” is an idea whose time has come. In any case, with markets having failed farmers across the globe to enhance farm incomes, a lot hinges now on consumer support for farmers. If 16 million people in France have come forward to support farmers, by making purchases at relatively higher prices, the initiative launched by Nicolas certainly has come a long way.

‘No farmer, no food’ is not an empty slogan. It needs consumers’ commitment to keep farming alive and kicking. It’s time for consumers to stand in solidarity with farmers.
(Source: Ground Reality : https://devinder-sharma.blogspot.com/)