Sustainable Agriculture is Important to the Environment But So Are Sustainable Finance and Economies

Only the bad stuff makes news and the end of July was no exception with three different environmental reports that financial institutions, businesses and politicians should take heed of.

Yet somehow, it all seems to carry on regardless. In the aftermath of the most catastrophic economic situation since the 1930s, there is still no sign of contrition from those widely regarded to be most culpable.

They are the financial institutions that speculated wildly on continued growth when bundling dodgy property loans (given to people who had little prospect of repaying them) into obscure financial packages – called mortgage backed derivatives – that not even some bankers and economists understood.

Is this writer the only person on the planet who can see a similarity to pyramid selling?

Legislation to tighten control and regulation of banks and other financial institutions in the USA, UK and Europe, according to economic experts like Prof Raghuram Rajoram, of Chicago University, and former member of the UK’s Monetary Policy Committee, Dr Sushil Wadhwani, are toothless while the emphasis is still on a recovery based on growth.

Yet it’s feared that the strict austerity measures introduced in the UK, US and Europe are endangering economic recovery and while it may be necessary to cut the massive government debts that propping up the banks has caused it should be done more gradually. Some would go further.

What’s needed, according to Dr Wadhwani, is a more sustainable – and differently structured – economic model. Yet, he says, policy makers and financial regulators are still using the same techniques used in previous recessions and making the same policy mistakes and has said: “there’s not enough contrition being shown…. Banks haven’t absorbed the appropriate lessons of the mistakes they made, in fact they’re not even willing to admit that mistakes were made.”

There’s that word sustainable again. It’s familiar in the spheres of environment, agriculture and the need to grow more food. It should be familiar in the financial and political worlds also.

But what have financial investors and Funds done? They’ve turned their attention to other sources of investment in the form of speculation on basic commodities like grain, artificially pushing up prices of basic foods beyond the means of the poorest on the planet.

Of course, in their small and insular world, any commodity in short supply is likely to be a good investment – buy up scarce stocks or options in future trading and the price will rise giving more profit for the investor.

There’s plainly no room in the world of money for ethics.

It’s instructive to put the reports mentioned earlier into this context. Firstly a report on climate change revealed 2010 has been the warmest year on record.

Then came a report that global warming might be the cause of micro-organisms dying out in the world’s oceans. Phytoplankton have been diminishing at the rate of 1% per year since the mid-20th Century. They are crucial to the marine food chain and to drawing down carbon dioxide as well as producing around half the oxygen we breathe.

Finally the Financial Times, London, revealed the leaked contents of a report by the World Bank into investors from rich nations buying up African farmland. It’s due in August and expected to conclude that foreign investors without the slightest agricultural expertise are threatening local resources by buying up farmland in places like Africa in order to gain on commodity prices.

Anti poverty campaigners have raised concerns about the effect of speculative land buying on the poorest local producers, whom they push out while at the same time investing little in improving agricultural techniques to meet the huge growth of food production needed to feed a growing global population.

It may be na├»ve but wouldn’t it actually benefit investors to put their resources into those techniques – such as the new generation of low-chem agricultural products, including biopesticides, biofungicides and yield enhancers – into training small producers to use them and into infrastructures to get the produce to market to ensure a sustainable return on their investment?

Or is it all about short term gain and selfishness for a minority of already-powerful people with no real concept of living on the same, shared planet, in the same, rapidly-deteriorating environment, breathing the same globally warmed air?

It has to be more than chance that running the world on a continuous economic growth model in a largely unregulated market coincides with accelerated destruction of rain forests, soil fertility, global warming and a host of now annual extreme weather events, like the latest devastating monsoon in Pakistan.

Sustainable economic systems are plainly as important to people’s survival as they are to the planet’s and it’s a lesson of history that financial institutions, regulators, politicians and powerful multinational businesses all need to learn – fast.

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