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The emerging organic marketplace – Some Observations. Part-3: Danger Signs

The Hidden Costs

Does chemical food really cost less? Not if you take the real costs into account. There are two kinds of costs which are today hidden and not taken into account.

Firstly, there are subsidies on chemical inputs, and which are direct hidden costs.

Secondly there are huge indirect costs, which if added will make chemically grown food the most expensive. Let’s look at some such costs.

  • Chemical fertilisers are made from crude oil both as a raw material source as well as an energy source (in an energy intensive production process). The cheap transportation of huge excess production of humongous monocultures practiced under industrial chemical farming is again fuelled by oil. We know the havoc oil is playing in nature starting from global warming-climate change to soil and water contamination. If oil companies are made to pay for these costs the entire edifice of the global oil empire will collapse, and the cost of oil will skyrocket to completely unaffordable levels thereby making chemical agriculture totally unviable.

  • Secondly, fertile soils evolved over thousands of years are being completely destroyed and made lifeless within a few decades by rampant use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides. Loss of soil health is considered one of the great catastrophes of modern times. The costs of such destruction cannot even be counted.

  • Thirdly these toxic chemicals used at every stage of food production – from growing to processing to packaging – are playing havoc with our health as well as the health of our eco-systems. They are responsible for the rapid increase in diseases like cancer. The costs of treating such diseases runs into billion/trillions of dollars.

  • Add to these the costs of contamination of ground water, rivers and oceans; air pollution, species extinction. We have ourselves experienced the near extinction of sparrows, honey bees, butterflies, fireflies in our own surrounding in our own lifetime.

  • The fact is that ultimately, we are paying for all these costs in some form, but not as price of food we buy.

So, chemically grown food is not really cheap but its true costs are hidden from us and passed on to us through other avenues. So next time before we complain about the costs of organic foods let’s think twice.

Corporatisation of organic farming-retailing

As the interest in organic produce grows and market expands, we are beginning to see the entry of corporate style initiatives in this space and also in organic farming. This is certainly a worrying trend and not healthy for either the consumer or the farmer or even the neighbourhood organic store. Why so?

When greed and growth imperative take over as the driving force, compromises are highly likely to be made. Also, these entities are typically faceless and very opaque in terms of the transparency. Their dealings with the farmers is totally one-sided and exploitative. And the consumers end up paying an exorbitant price which is simply not justified, especially given the fact that farmers from whom they source their supply are paid peanuts.

Here I want to give an example of a venture which is into growing and retailing organic produce in B’lore. They target communities and housing complexes where they home deliver as well as are setting up a chain of organic shops. They have rolled out a well-oiled typical corporate marketing machinery with sleek videos, high-profile CEO etc. Over the last year or so they have seen tremendous growth and are now supplying their produce to thousands of housing complexes.

Interestingly their organic stores are being set up right next to existing neighbourhood organic stores clearly indicating their intentions.

I know for a fact that their own farm cannot supply anywhere close to the produce they are putting out in the market. Obviously, the substantial rest is procured from outside. But the growth continues unhindered. How are they able to check the credentials of these suppliers? In their hunger for growth and market domination how do we know that compromises are not being made. Secondly what is the purpose of setting up shops right next to an existing store?

Nowadays I find that such initiatives are even trying to come into farmer markets. They want to blanket the entire organic marketplace. We need to be really guarded about such initiatives. Because once they come to dominate the supply side, they can dictate terms to both the consumers and the farmers.

Imported Organic Food

Global trade in agricultural products is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and thus global warming. It militates against very essence of natural farming, harms the small local farmers, is very opaque and is an agenda pushed by global transnational corporations. We as consumers should completely boycott any imported agricultural produce be it organic or otherwise. Here its better not to encourage long distance trade in agricultural products even within the country. The motto should be – buy what is grown and sold locally.

In conclusion

Buy organic food, know your farmer, don’t cherry pick and bargain while buying, buy directly and locally, and spread the awareness.

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