As I sit here on the open Indian grass outside of the 17th Organic World Congress, I begin to wonder whether the banana I’m eating is in fact organic. Has it come from far? Has its production contributed to the mass of pollution-smog that is surrounding me? Has my purchasing of the banana helped the local farmers or the business men surrounding me at the conference? It is questions like these which we as consumers need to ask.
After only being at the congress for a few hours, I have already realised the complexity of the food chain. This is highlighted by the variety of different entrances for the different strands of actors in the organic movement — from farmers to government officials, university students to locals campaigning to save their rice variety. Clearly, the production of food is a multifaceted process in sum meaning that a lot of decisions have been made to bring bananas to your plate. However, few of us realise that we have the power to influence these decisions.
We are clearly important players in the process.
Role as consumers
Everyone is a consumer — even here at the congress. This morning despite all being here to represent different aspects of organics, we all represent consumers. To achieve a movement towards the global adoption of organics, consumers need to realise their ability to vote with their rupee/pound.
Lack of knowledge/transparency
I can imagine that the vendors at the fresh produce stall from which I bought this banana receive few customers asking about the origin of their products, and whether they are organic. I can also imagine that these sellers themselves do not know whether their products are organic. Situations such as these highlight the fact that around the world, consumers rarely know of organics, let alone the global organic movement. This is where the problem ultimately lies.
It is time we started to hold all actors in the food chain accountable for the quality of the food they produce, using the power of our pound. Farmers need to realise their role in providing produce in an environmentally sustainable way; governments need to realise their role in providing the financial incentives for farmers to do so; and companies need to realise their role in providing customers with transparent information about the quality of their produce. But all this depends foremost on customers realising their role in the demand for organic produce, for both the good of themselves, and the environment.
Millie Law is an undergraduate student in the Department of Geography.