Investors in Oikocredit regularly ask us to do two things: finance organic agriculture and stay away from anything related to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). While we understand both standpoints, we must balance these requests with our mission to empower the disadvantaged, including in situations where alternatives to GMOs cannot be accessed.
Organic agriculture is less than 1% of world production: if we limited ourselves to this, our effect on agrifinance would drop so far as to be insignificant. Many farmers won’t get fair trade or organic certification because the cost of securing certification outweighs any price premium at the farm gate (you can ask our Maanaveeya colleagues about the number of organically produced oranges that are used for juice concentrate in India each year). Meanwhile organisations such as the Gates Foundation in Seattle feel that the role of GMOs must not be dismissed from the future of food security.
But what about the way we behave day-to-day? Many of us try as far as possible to buy organically produced or locally sourced food, paying a premium to do so when the quality of the product isn’t always superior to the alternatives, but we persist in the spirit of supporting grass roots and local economies. We might also try to use only organic fabrics in clothing, use bicycles and public transport to reduce carbon footprint, restrict use of washing machines and the like, and recycle waste as far as possible. We may even try to use only renewable energy sources both at home and at work.
At the same time, short of the Fairphone, who ever heard of fair trade electronics? How much research do we do into the production techniques and environmental impact of tools like laptops and tablets with which we organise and run our lives? How many of us look for organic cigarettes? (They do exist.) Have you ever wondered about the ESG scorecards of the bands or orchestras you listen to?
Perhaps we ought to step back occasionally and think about the big picture and what kind of world we really want to support. Oikocredit will continue to strive to achieve whatever it can to improve the lives of poor people in the developing world, in line with our mission. But striking a balance between doing good in the world and green living is not a simple matter.
The Guardian (a large UK newspaper usually well-disposed to Oikocredit) carried a column last month that concluded that a fair trade cappuccino is a “cheap way by which to make a few false statements about yourself”. Is the implied criticism fair or unfair? What do you think?