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Making Sustainability Works In International Trade

Building a resilient tomorrow with an inclusive sustainability agenda

Sustainability has become an increasing topic for discussion nowadays. It is the core of all the SDGs of the UN agenda. An important discussion like Green Deal Investment for Europe and Africa has always put sustainability at the Center. Passing the baton to the next generation in sustainability in terms of business, agriculture and the way we live is vital. However, others argue the cost in doing so is too much to bear. So, what is sustainability and why is it important in business and international trade? What are the challenges that smallholder farmers, in particular, encountered engaging in sustainability and how does that affect them especially women from benefiting from it?

Sustainability is the act of meeting our needs without hindering the possibility and ability for future generations to achieve their own needs as well. The EU defines Sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present whilst ensuring future generations can meet their own needs.”  And Harvard Business School sees it as “doing business without negatively impacting the environment, community, or society as a whole”. It is doing business and also taking care of the environment and society. It is about respecting the triple bottom line in business which is making profits while including societal responsible and protecting the planet as well. The world is changing fast as a result of climate change and living in a way that future generations still have something to rely on is imperative. With this said, doing business in a sustainable manner is good business and something everyone especially businesses should reconsider.

The three pillars in sustainability are economic, environmental, and social. The EU is bringing these pillars together in their activities in a way that re-enforces each other. The 2030 Agenda of the UN also adopted by the EU, clearly presented the sustainable development framework and sets out the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with sustainability at the core so that no one is left behind. By 2050 the EU wants to become climate-neutral with an economy of zero greenhouse gas emissions by transforming climate challenges into opportunities.

why is Sustainable business important and for international trade?

Sustainable business is important because the benefits are enormous. A business that is environmentally conscious is more than just making profits. They make a profit while concentrating on the greater good in society. It is about sustaining the business in terms of profit and also making sure that the environment in which the business operates is healthy, so that future generations can still do business. So, passing on the baton to the next generation. This is indeed worth fighting for.

There are some benefits.

First, it is a good way to secure income sources for the present and next generation in the business.

Also, it helps with greater return on investment and makes the product stands out among competitors like green branding.

Furthermore, it helps to attract the right employees and talents in your business because they identify with your values instead of the paycheck.

Again, if products are produced in a sustainable way, it attracts premium prices in the world market. This helps to create sustainable income and jobs for farmers and quality added-value products for consumers. A win-win situation for producers and consumers. This is important because EU consumers for instance wants  quality, trust, and transparency in the sourcing of their product in the Supply Chain.

In international trade, a webinar organised by One Planet network on the relationship between trade and sustainable consumption, the panelists emphasised that sustainability has become very important in international trade now more than ever especially with the pandemic. This is because a product can be produced in one country and consumed in another. Again that 1/3 of agri products imported in the EU came from developing countries alone excluding china and includes Africa. Also, that 1.1 billion people in the developing countries are engaged in agriculture with 57% in Sub-Saharan Africa, 62% women, and 56% men. With this huge number involved in agriculture, most of their products end up in the world markets including Europe. As the world population is increasing meaning more mouths to feed, production needs to be sustainable to ensure continuity.

Finally, engaging in international trade helps to strengthen relationships between countries and continents like the case of the EU and AU.

So, that is why it is important to take into consideration sustainability in the supply chain to ensure continuity, consumer trust, and obtaining a premium price. This is even much so in Africa where there are more women business owners than men.

However, there are some challenges, especially for smallholder farmers.

  • The cost of doing sustainable business is high in terms of techniques, technologies, and certification, thereby making some companies compromised. This is even much so with smallholder farmers.
  • The standards of determining sustainability are not harmonised in all countries so much that sustainability in Latin America or Europe is different from that in Africa.
  • Smallholder farmers cannot compete with giant companies when it comes to compiling to sustainability as such they are often left out.

What can be done to address these challenges?

  • Smallholder farmers can be mobilised and organised into groups so as to increase their bargaining power of obtaining certification for their product to fetch them a premium price and increase their income.
  • The use of alternative sources of energy to produce more with less for domestic and agriculture uses.
  • Creating farmers groups will help increase the chances of applying for certification and obtaining it.
  • Technologies can be subsidised by the government or the private sector so that companies and smallholder farmers can be engaged in sustainable business.
  • Enabling government policies through incentives towards companies to motivate them to engage.
  • Finally, a multi-disciplinary approach, all hands on deck approach is needed to make sustainability work.

How EuroAfri Link fits the bill

EAL is out for sustainable trade by strengthening and engaging farmers in sustainable production through access to information, creating a trade channel in agri products from Africa to Europe, knowledge exchange, crop diversification, and technologies.

You can support this course with technologies, incentives, and enabling policies.

By Patience Chindong – EAL and  Evelyne Achieno – EVICO Service Limited 


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