This paper looks at the potential usefulness of triple bottom line accounting, and also explores other approaches, in financial accounting, for ecological and social outcomes and the effects of different farming methods. It then provides details of the presentations given by three witnesses and a summary of the outcomes of the farmer panel deliberation.
The topic of accounting for the social and environmental costs of farming approaches appeared in two, separately distilled, maps at the August workshop with farmers; one on producer business viability, and the other on the feasibility of supplying local food. Producer business viability was a focus for discussion, in the early part of the second day, and many aspects of this were discussed, including subsidies, grants, competition from other types of producers, and lifestyle elements (long hours for low pay and reduced time with family etc.).
Local food issues are closely related to business viability, as most small-scale producers will be selling into their local markets whilst in competition with supermarkets, etc, where the food sold is not subject to such stringent environmental or social standards. There were strong feelings amongst the farmers that their work was undervalued, particularly in financial terms by both the public and government.
This issue also emerged during a discussion of how agroecological produce is undervalued in the market, and prices are undercut by supermarkets. Farmers noted that true costs are hidden by subsidies and also through the monopolistic behaviour of industrial processers and retailers, which leads to low prices for customers at the producers’ expense. Further, the social and ecological costs of food are not normally accounted for, in conventional markets, though these are the aspects in which agroecological producers are providing the most benefits in comparison to industrial scale and chemical based agriculture.
The need to investigate the potential of economic approaches, which take into account social and ecological costs as well as the financial ones, was discussed and compared to the way the state currently pays for the environmental and social costs of the food system. One of the approaches mentioned by the farmers, in these discussions, was ‘triple bottom line accounting’.