I really like the recent movement of the "Gueules Cassées" (Broken Faces) in France. This movement promotes the sale and consumption of ugly products, ie products that have been declassified and destined for trash. It is an allusion to the French soldiers disfigured by the First World War.
I am very receptive to this problem, and if you read from me long enough, you have seen my posts 18, 19, 21 and 23 of the months of May and June on these problems. If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, you have also seen several re-publications on this topic. The movement begins to be copied in several countries.
I want to speak again about this subject, following an Argentine article (in Spanish), I published my different accounts, in which a scientist, Daniel Igarzábal, Director of the Research, Development and Experimentation Regional Laboratory (Córdoba, Argentina) said at a conference, that agriculture must change direction, and stop seeing insects as enemies while promoting biodiversity, to live with them.
On the substance, I agree with him, but the reality of today's agriculture is not exactly the one he's dreaming. Agriculture cannot change alone. It is society that needs to change, and agriculture with it.
To understand the farmer issues, one must be placed, not in the position of the research scientist and observer of nature and its workings, what Daniel Igarzábal is, but in the one of the economic actor integrated in the society and who must comply with its requirements, what the farmer is.
We have to move towards what he says, that's pretty sure, but for that we need to change certain postulates of our modern civilization.
On fruits and vegetables, and all agricultural products not intended for processing, nearly 50% of treatments made with pesticides, organic or conventional, have a cosmetic purpose. It means they are applied to solve a problem, insect or disease, whose only consequences are aesthetic, on the product that will be proposed to the consumer.
Is this reasonable? Is this compatible with sustainable and environmentally friendly agriculture?
Of course not, but to solve this real problem of our society, the movement of Les Gueules Cassées will not be enough and more, is not really going in the right direction.
Its goal, while laudable, is to reduce the scandalous food wastage in our society. It seeks and obtains an awareness of the entire civil society, about a problem that is getting worse. That's good, but it will not solve the farmer's problem.
Let's go back for a moment on the issue. The farmer is a person who cultivates the land to raise plants and animals in order to make a living by producing food. He lives with the seasons, rises early, has tractors and rubber boots, and rarely suffers traffic jams.
But do not forget the most important.
The farmer must face problems very "down to earth", far from philososophico-philanthropic concerns about feeding humanity in the respect of Mother Nature. He manages a business, more or less large, he must ensure its sustainability by securing the earnings to make it work, while deriving a decent income.
It lacks poetry and romance, no doubt, but the administrations of taxes or Social Security are insensitive to it.
To be clear, a farmer, whatever the scale on which he works, is first an entrepreneur, and as such, it must manage all the problems inherent in this activity.
His first problem: providing his customers with products in conformity to a number of specifications. Depending on quality, the products will be categorized, and paid accordingly. The higher the quality, the higher the income of the farmer will be good, for the same amount provided.
From this premise, what means the word quality? this is where the problem lies. Every level of the food marketing network has its own definition of quality, and this is another real society problem.
For the grower, the product must be enough easy to produce, to have a high percentage of first quality, easy to conserve, not too sensitive to parasites, must be productive, so as to give him all chances to sell it in good conditions and draw a decent income.
The dealer expects the products he buys and sells, are beautiful, keep well, are resistant to manipulation, are good enough for the consumer to come back (which does not mean they must be good, just that they cannot be disappointing, it's a nuance), and allow him to earn sufficient money. In addition, in recent years, he is concerned about food security because it is a huge business risk for him.
Consumers expect the products they buy, to be wholesome, to be tasty, and not to rot too fast.
Yes, but the consumer has not been educated to buy his food. He does not know recognize a product better than others. As they say, the consumer buys with eyes. All consumer tests show that: put side by side, two identical products, for example Golden apples, to take a very common product. One of the lots is perfect, well-formed, with a beautiful color, and flawless epidermis. Beside, put another lot, more irregular in shape, size and especially in appearance (some friction damage, some marks). The most beautiful apples will be sold first, although they are more expensive, although they are not as good. It is a reality.
Les Gueules Cassées have understood this, and defend successfully the ugly products.
Dealers, especially supermarkets have also understood, which require their suppliers, farmers, cooperatives or any kind of groups, they provide their products with an aesthetic, always closer to perfection.
The consequence for the farmer is that his income depends on two main factors, productivity (cultivate one hectare costs almost the same, regardless of its production), and the percentage of first quality.
In other words, the current marketing system forces the farmer to realize many sprayings to increase the proportion of first quality.
But the worst is that this trend, very clear in conventional agriculture or integrated production, also begins to appear for the products from organic farming, at least in regard to the part, important, of the production sold by supermarkets.
The movement of Les Gueules Cassées does not resolve, at least for now, that problem. The awareness that aesthetics has no bearing on the quality is certainly positive. but the lower selling price to consumers of ugly products, leaves aside farmer's economic reality. When we know that the farmer only receives 10 to 20% of the final price, sometimes less, simply do the math.
I believe we must restore consumer confidence in the products they consume, and in this, the proceedings of profit denigration, launched relentlessly by organic movements, and often tacitly supported by governments, are fully against the current.
I already addressed this issue in my publication No. 16 on Biological Production. This philosophy/production method carries with itself enough positive arguments, to not to need to systematically break down the conventional production, with false or biased arguments. This negative argument only contributes to hold the consumers off from fresh products, as shown by the decreasing curves of consumption of fruits and vegetables for many years. Yet promote the overall increase in consumption, should be beneficial to both organic and conventional production. At the same time, it would strengthen the position of agriculture by providing consumers with all the benefits of a diet, rich in fresh products.
The change of direction advocated by Daniel Igarzábal will not happen without a profound change in the richest societies. This change must go through a consumer education, action in which the movement of Les Gueules Cassées is an important contribution, but above all a real revolution in the organization of consumer goods distribution channels.
Nothing will really evolve, if these two actions, complementary and inseparable, are not conducted together.
But there are many economic interests, and it cannot be done without drastic decisions, legislative type.
This means to totally rethink some deep workings of our consumer society.Is there someone interested?