Social Impacts From Farming And Agriculture

Questions of social equity often arise in discussions of sustainable agriculture. Wages for farm labor are so low in most industrialized countries that their agricultural sectors rely substantially on migratory labour from poorer nations, leaving farmers vulnerable to changing immigration policies and placing burdens on government social services. The questionable legal status of many of these workers also contributes to their generally low pay and standard of living, lack of job security, lack of opportunities for upward mobility, and exemptions from occupational safety protections considered standard in other industries. Pooling resources among many farmers to provide better housing, sharing labour among farms with different crops to even out the seasonality of work opportunities, shared equity in farm profits, mentoring workers to acquire and operate their own farms, and working on innovative ways to provide affordable health insurance and educational opportunities for employees are all alternative ways to increase labour equity and social justice.

Increasing consolidation of food manufacturers and marketers and of farm input suppliers means that farmers lack the economic power to negotiate better prices for their inputs and crops. This means their profit margins get squeezed, leaving many farmers with few resources to improve environmental and working conditions. Banding together in production, processing, or marketing cooperatives is one way that farmers can increase their relative economic power. Performing some processing functions on-farm before selling their crops, producing higher-value specialty crops, building direct marketing opportunities that bypass middlemen, and looking for niche markets are other ways that farmers can capture a larger share of the economic value of what they produce. Policies regulating consolidation can also protect farmers in the long-term.

Due to these economic pressures on farmers, many rural communities have become poorer as farms and associated local agricultural enterprises go out of business. Economic development policies and tax structures that encourage more diversified agricultural production on family farms can form a foundation for healthier rural economies. Within the limitations of the market structure, consumers can also play a role; through their purchases, they send strong messages to producers, retailers and others in the system about what they think is important, including environmental quality and social equity.

Finally, some of the same economic pressures that have hurt on-farm sustainability have also created social equity concerns for consumers in low-income communities, who are often left with little access to healthy food as conventional supermarkets move to more lucrative neighbourhoods to bolster slim profit margins. Food production and marketing arrangements to bolster community food security, including community and home gardens, farmers markets, the use of fresh local farm produce in school meal programs, and local food cooperatives represent efforts to address these concerns.

Mutual Wide Corporation will continue to work with local farmers, communities, and industry leaders to protect the long-term interests in the agriculture sector for a sustainable future.