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courtesy AfromusingAgricultural investment is the one bright spot amid the gloomy outlook for FDI to developing countries as the recession drags on, according to the new World Investment Report 2009.  UNCTAD, which produces the report each year, predicts that agribusiness will be at the forefront of the next “FDI boom” as it is less susceptible to business cycles and slumps in demand than other sectors. 

FDI in agriculture brings with it the promise of direct government revenues (taxes, fees, royalties) along with jobs, market access, technology transfer and infrastructure.  On the other hand, large-scale investments and land transfers may threaten local rights, resource access and livelihoods.  Impacts may extend well beyond the actual project site if, for example, a big producer floods the national market and displaces existing small-scale suppliers. 

“Land grabs” have made plenty of headlines in 2009, but what is their real extent and impact?  One argument is that the phenomenon is exaggerated.  Recent land deals account for only 2-5% of suitable agricultural land in sample African countries, for example.  Many of giant deals such as the 10 million ha deal between the Republic of Congo and South Africa’s commercial farmers’ association Agri-SA, scheduled to be signed in October 2009, are likely in reality to involve development of much smaller contiguous areas.  Furthermore, most approved deals are yet to go into operation, raising the possibility that some at least are purely speculative.

But small total land areas do not mean low impact.  In spite of the common rhetoric that biofuels should – and will – be confined to “marginal” or “waste” land, the reality is that large-scale agricultural projects are targeting the best land.  In Mali, the national land registry shows that large-scale land acquisitions for biofuels and food over the past five years have been confined to the highest potential, irrigated lands.  These are the areas that are most likely to under existing uses and claims.

There are two key issues at stake.  The first is whether there is a place for large-scale agribusiness in the local and national economy – this is a question that every country needs to explore, preferably through open and wide-reaching public debate that weighs up the pros and cons honestly.  The second is that the actual substance of agricultural investment deals is key to long-term benefits and outcomes.  Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, for instance, has been particularly alert to opportunities to renegotiate the terms of major natural resource contracts, leading to more equitable terms on taxation, transparency and local benefits in the country’s deals with ArcelorMittal and Firestone.

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Smallholder farmers are the mainstay of agricultural production in the developing world. It is estimated that over 2 billion people in the developing world depend on smallholder farms for their livelhoods.

However, smallholders face several barriers and challenges both for domestic production and production for export. Access to credit is just one of these and has long been a key barrier to production for smallholders, undermining smallholders’ abilities to invest in their farms and production, often leading to declining levels of productivity. In cocoa and coffee production – an important source of foreign exchange and income for many developing country governments and farmers –  a lack of access to credit (or at considerable expense) has meant that farmers have been unable to invest in new trees and have relied on older trees which have declining yields and, therefore, diminishing returns.

The UN has argued that access to credit and financial services is ever more important in the context of the financial crisis and declining levels of remittances, which serve as an important safety net for much of the world’s poor.

In April this year, the first ever meeting of G8 Agricultural Ministers took place. Kanayo Nwanze President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) said at the meeting that:

“Protecting and increasing the access of poor rural people to financial services is even more vital now…the well-being of 2 billion poor people who depend on smallholder farms in developing countries hinges on it…that is why we are encouraging ministers to return home and make sure that in all countries, rich and poor, we work together to keep agriculture at the top of their national agendas”.

IFAD argues that private sector involvement in agriculture is more important than ever, particularly with regard to the provision of services such as finance and marketing. 

For many large businesses who source from smallholders in the developing world, sustainability concerns (related in particular to climate change) are driving projects to ensure that smallholder production is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. An example of this growing trend is the shift of two major confectionery brands – Mars and Cadbury’s – to using certification (in these cases, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade) as a means to bring about sustainable production. As part of these transformations, support services are also provided to the smallholders involved, a gap that developing world governments have often been unable to fill. For example Cadbury’s is implementing farmer education programmes that explore best cocoa management practices leading to improved quality cocoa and increased yields and offering enterprise loans to start up farming or small businesses. Several examples  have shown that investing in services for smallholders can be a win-win for businesses.

Let’s hope these trends continue and the recession provides ample evidence of the importance of private sector investment in agriculture.

Whilst researching the impacts of the recession on the demand for crocodile leather and stumbling over some tales of recession-induced woes, it seems Hermes, an internationally renowned luxury fashion brand, is the shining star – bucking all trends, and potentially single-handedly fuelling demand for exotic skins, like crocodile leather.

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Hermes sales rose by 3.2% at current exchange rates to €428.4 million over the first 3 months of 2009, despite the wider market context of a floundering global economy. Much of that growth is attributed to sales of leather goods, which rose 21.7% to €206 million and has been driven by ‘robust’ expansion in China and Korea (Hermes 2009).

Hermes’ Birkin bags fanatics, including celebrities like Victoria Beckham, are paying up to $US50,000 (with bags made from exotic skins hitting the 6-digit mark) for a single bag with a waiting list of 2-3 years. Beckham reportedly owns $US2 million worth of Hermes Birkin bags (Murray and Williams 2009). Three thousand coveted Saltwater crocodile skin bags will be made this year, and limiting them in number maintains the exclusivity, luxury image and mystique surrounding them. No doubt it helps that Hermes’ key clientele are unlikely to be affected by the recession and are seemingly “recession proof”, but Hermes ability to conjure such furore over a handbag can only be admired. The exclusivity of its brand is partly reflected in its differing sales results for own stores versus distribution networks, with a 16% growth in sales (at current exchange rates) in the former and a decline in the latter. Clearly stepping into Hermes’ own stores is a far more compelling shopping experience than that found in its distribution stores.

Experts argue that “the people who can afford these goods are not affected by the recession. Even if they lost millions of dollars in the market, they are still worth hundreds of millions of dollars. If you want something super special, if you want a handmade crocodile bag and you can afford it, Hermes is the only place you’ll go”.

Hermes, usually very closed-book about its activities, has claimed that “we cannot meet demand. We are facing massive over-demand. We are limited by our ability to train new craftsmen” [Patrick Thomas, CEO, cited in Goldman (2009)]. Craftsmen in a small French town of Pantin, spend up to 2 weeks preparing each bag. In order to guarantee supply Hermes is vertically integrating its supply chain, establishing new farms in Australia: “It can take three to four crocodiles to make one of our bags so we are now breeding our own crocodiles on our own farms, mainly in Australia,” and it is looking to add to its existing number of 1400 craftsmen to alleviate the bottleneck it currently faces in turning the leather into the exclusive Hermes handbag.

Whilst Hermes success might not be replicable in any market other than the ‘luxury’ fashion market, its role in fuelling demand for crocodile skin, and in driving the demand for 8 high quality skin and skilled, highly trained craftsmen can not be ignored.

This article is cited in the Crocodile Specialist Group Newsletter. See: http://iucncsg.org/.

Whilst the ‘Dairy Milk goes Fairtrade’ story has been around since early this year, it has now become a reality, despite a wider context of financial crises and a stagnation and decline in sales of some certified produce such as Organic.

On Monday the Bournville factory in the West Midlands, churned out its first line of Fairtrade Dairy Milk bars. A first in the world of ‘mainstream’ chocolate. Fairtrade has existed on the ‘fringes’ of most commodity sales (1-20% of all commodity sales in Europe and the US, Fairtrade’s biggest markets), albeit with growing sales, with most Fairtrade cocoa traditionally associated with niche or gourmet chocolate. It has now been propelled firmly into the mainstream. 

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The Fairtrade certification of Dairy Milk is expected to increase UK Fairtrade sales by 25%, after they reached £712.6m last year. Cadbury’s adoption of Fairtrade for its largest brand, Dairy Milk, is the sign of a big commitment. Cadbury’s claims that other varieties such as Fruit & Nut and Wholenut will follow once Fairtrade sources for ingredients such as hazelnuts and raisins are established (The Guardian).

And despite now being a time of financial difficulties for many companies, for Dairy Milk the transition to Fairtrade in the midst of a recession, should not be too finanically taxing. Cocoa is currently trading at $2,000 on the open market — well above the  minimum floor price of $1,750 a tonne for cocoa set by Fairtrade. This will mean no impact on purchase prices in the short term. However, the Fairtrade commitment does means the company is now locked in to paying higher prices than that on the open market if prices fall. Cadbury’s biggest driver for certification is thought to be that of securing supply and guaranteeing the sustainability of supply. This they regard as a necessary investment, rather than a cost.  

Cadbury’s may well be on to something here, as prices for cocoa rise due to shortages in supply, and as they have the added benefit of reduced reputational risk and increased shareholder value. This can only be a positive thing as the recession has severely undermined our faith in big businesses. Undoubtedly the commitment of a brand like Cadbury’s will only encourage others to follow suit and this trend is already emerging. Mars has pledged to buy 100% of its cocoa from sustainable sources by 2020,  working with the Rainforest Alliance. Nestlé, meanwhile, is working with the International and World Cocoa foundations.

to letAs the recession appears to continue unabated, it becomes clear that in any given situation there will always be winners and losers. And the recession is no exception.

As new building developments stand empty and construction sites remain unfinished it becomes evident that the recession has paused the purchase and development of new residential and commercial space. In the U.S. some states are removing or reducing impact fees – charged by municipalities nationwide to pay for the additional services that come with increased development, such as schools, sewer lines and roads – to try and bolster development in these financial trying times (Boston.com).

Whilst the financial crisis has halted development and expansion for the vast majority, others are using this ‘construction pause’ as an opportunity. Some retailers have been able to benefit from falling land and property prices and the quicker processing of planning applications, to expand their operations into both new land and deserted ex-retail space.

Seemingly unaffected by decreased access to credit, large retailers are snapping up land and new developments. With retailers like Woolworths and Zavvi going bust, new sites are constantly emerging and this pattern is likely to continue as long as the recession does. For example, earlier this month Sainsbury’s announced that it would seek to raise additional capital worth £445m as a direct response to the opportunities currently available to develop new space. This investment will enable Sainsbury’s to open an additional 15% gross space, equating to 2.5m sq ft of additional selling area, over the next two years.

Morrisons also announced in March 2008 that it had identified up to 100 new locations which could accommodate one of its stores and would therefore add a further one million square feet on top of what was initially set out within its ‘Optimisation Plan’ (IDG).

Whilst on the surface this may seem like a simple trend of expansion, for supermarkets in particular, expanding retail space is an important factor in gaining market share and cornering markets, particularly to anticipate increased sales when the recession ends. This spatial expansion has ramifications for the smaller or independent stores who may no longer have the same options in terms of their own expansion into new retail space and may be crowded out by chains of supermarkets that come to dominate the high street.

The recession serves to amplify strengths and weaknesses – almost a process of natural selection – as the strongest and largest (in terms of size and financial strength) are better able to hold their position and even better it, whilst the smaller and weaker retailers are likely to struggle, at best maintaining their position, at worst, folding. To reiterate then, there are always winners and losers but closely monitoring this trend and what it may mean for suppliers and producers, particularly in the developing world, may reveal a great deal about supply chain dynamics and the impact these dynamics have on producers, either positive or negative. This could ultimately help better inform policy.

Despite many experts arguing (and hoping) that the developing world would be sheltered from the economic crisis, it appears that the answer to the question ‘will the recession impact developing countries?’ is yes. And not only yes, but that the impact has been more severe than we might have expected.

2009 will be worse in terms of the severity of the impact than 2008 as the recession really begins to take hold, and much of the economic growth to date and the associated development gains will be undone throughout this period of global financial turmoil. A depressing story has begun to emerge. By the end of 2009, developing countries are expected to lose incomes worth at least $750 billion. In sub-Saharan Africa, the figure is over $50 billion. The consequences of this fall in income will be increases in unemployment, poverty and hunger. The ODI estimates that an extra 50 million people will be trapped in absolute poverty, with the number expected to rise to 90 million. As previously mentioned, hunger is going to increase significantly and is already on the rise, with 100 million more expected to go hungry because of the recession – having risen for the first time in 20 years.

There are a number of key ‘transmission belts’ which transmit the impacts of the recession to the developing world. These are explored further below:

1) Trade

The value of trade has been falling in some countries. Japan recently reported that it exported 50% less in February than it did a year ago. Falling trade is argued to be a result of a combination of falling demand for goods and a credit squeeze (npr). The ODI found that tightening credit conditions were happening for domestic bank lending in Cambodia, Ghana and Zambia.

Indonesian exports of electronic products experienced a fall of 25% (in value terms) in January 2009 compared to the previous year. Similarly the value of garment export in Cambodia has dropped from a monthly average of $250 million in 2008 to $100 million in January 2009 (ODI). This has inevitably led to decreases in employment, for example, Cambodia laid-off 15,000 construction workers in mid-2008 and 51,000 were laid off in the garment industry. Kenya, which is highly reliant on the labour-intensive horticultural industry, saw 1200 jobs lost this year and a 35% decrease in exports of flowers. Uganda, a traditional commodity exporter, has faced significant declines in the value of its exports, because of falling prices for coffee, flowers and cotton and declining demand since November 2008. The recession has been particularly damaging for countries highly reliant on one or very few commodities that have experienced falling commodity prices.

2) Remittances

The World Bank revised its estimates of remittances downwards, after remittances reached $305 billion in 2008, to $290 billion in 2009, the first decrease in a decade.

In all countries studied, remittances had decreased, but Africa is thought to have seen the most significant decline.  In Kenya, for example, remittances were down by 27% in January 2009 compared to January 2008, following a volatile year. In Bangladesh emigration fell by 38.8% between February 2008 and February 2009, jeopardising future remittances.

3) Private financial flows

Private financial flows have been affected by the downturn. In particular portfolio investment flows fell significantly in 2008, with some signs of significant shifts from inflows to net outflows. For example, in Bangladesh and Kenya, studied by the ODI, experienced net outflows of portfolio investment flows worth $48 million in July-December 2008 (for Bangladesh) and $48 million in June 2oo8 and $12 million in October 2008 (in Kenya).

Net private capital inflows to developing countries fell to $707 billion in 2008, a sharp drop from a peak of $1.2 trillion in 2007. International capital flows are projected to fall further in 2009, to $363 billion (World Bank). In Indonesia, there has been a massive sell-off of government bonds and in Kenya and Nigeria there has been a significant drop in portfolio equity flows, consistent with the sharp fall of their stock markets (ODI).

The World Bank noted this trend in South Asia. It estimates flows to South Asia fell by 29% in 2008, among the sharpest declines posted among developing regions.  Credit conditions for bank lending has been tightening in Cambodia, Ghana and Zambia. Foreign Direct Investment has been less severely affected, but this has varied by country.

Economic policy and social protection provision responses

Economic and social protection policy responses have been extremely varied across countries in the developing world, with some adopting a business as usual approach and others being more-proactive (ODI). For example, Cambodia is implementing growth accelerating policies whereas Indonesia is implementing fiscal stimuli. Kenya, on the other hand, has done relatively little.

In terms of social protections, some countries are struggling to implement anything that even meets existing commitments such as Kenya and Uganda, whilst others are attempting to extend coverage of social protection provision to respond to the crisis (Bangladesh, Ghana and Cambodia).

During the recession it will be important to continue monitoring the impacts and the effectiveness of policy approaches, and building on any lessons learnt. This may enable developing countries and the developed world to better support the most vulnerable and avoid the further undoing of past progress.


The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) has commissioned a report by Economists at Large assessing the value world wide of whale watching to support their position of an outright ban on whale hunting at the current International Whaling Commission meeting.  The report estimates that whale watching generates $2.1 billion per year.

The director of Ifaw, Patrick Ramage, is quoted by the BBC as saying “Whale watching is clearly more environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial than hunting and whales are worth far more alive than dead.”

Mr Ramage is setting up the economic argument as an “either or” but various people (such as the Icelandic whaling commissioner) have suggested that you can have some of both.  We’re back to economics 1.1 as shown in the diagram below.  The curved line shows the marginal rate of substitution between eating whales and watching whales, and the straight budget line shows the relative price of the two goods.  The “optimal” point is (theoretically) where the gradient of the lines are equal.  At this combination the maximum value is extracted.

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This piece of basic under-graduate economics probably gets us not very far to the answer of “how much hunting, how much watching?” but it does go some way to debunking the argument that if one good is more valuable than another you should only produce the first good.  People corporately probably want a bit of both.

And what of the recession? How does this affect the logic of maintaining whale populations as tourist attractions?  Again considering the properties of the two goods in the model above may be useful. Consuming whale watching is by its nature lumpy. To go whale watching I need to travel to the country in question, probably as part of a larger holiday and I will probably do various other touristy things while I’m there.  When money gets tight it is difficult for me to cut the cost of the combined single good of “holiday to a place where I can go whale watching.” As such I’m likely not to go at all, or to go to some place cheaper without whales.  My demand for whale watching is reduced by 100%.

The problem is that whales can only be watched whole and in their natural environment. However if I shoot the whale, cut it up and put in tins it becomes a lot more transportable and less lumpy (economically speaking, I’ve never eaten whale so can’t comment on its texture). If say I would usually consume ten cans of whale meat in a year and money gets tight, presuming whale meat to have a cheaper substitute, I can chose to consume only eight tins this year. My demand for this product has only reduced by 20%.

As with so many good and markets considered by Sustainable Slump the consumption is defined by the properties of the goods themselves but also there substitutes. Is whale watching a luxury good? Probably. Is global travel going to get more expensive in the future? Probably.  Will whale watching still be worth $2.1 billion if the recession continues? Possibly not.

Debate has raged over the ability of luxury fashion to contribute to sustainable development and of the industry’s potential to be a trailblazer in setting an example of how business can contribute to wider ethical, social and environmental good. The recession has brought this debate into even sharper focus.

A report by WWF entitled Deeper Luxury argues that: “Luxury companies must do more to justify their value in an increasingly resource-constrained and unequal world. Despite strong commercial drivers for greater sustainability, luxury brands have been slow to recognise their responsibilities and opportunities. We call upon the luxury industry to bring to life a new definition of luxury, with deeper values expressed through social and environmental excellence.” It rates ten luxury brands on their environmental and social performance and none score highly.

Others argue that despite their reputation for being less than ethical that ‘change is in the air’ for luxury brands. The guardian argues that “Major players [in the luxury fashion industry]….appeared to be tripping over themselves to reduce energy consumption, announce water projects or phase out excess waste (in an industry where faulty or end-of-line products are incinerated to “protect” the brand) at a recent sustainable-luxury conference in Delhi. Meanwhile LVMH, returned to the FTSE4Good Index Series, has just become a shareholder in Edun, the socially conscious clothing company set up by Ali Hewson and her husband Bono.”

Luxury fashion has not been necessarily immune from the financial crisis, but it has certainly been faring better than its less luxurious counterparts. Some luxury brands have bucked all recession trends with Hermes and Mulberry reporting strong profits for the first quarter of 2009, particularly with the sale of accessories, such as handbags, which satisfy consumers’ shopping itch and are longer-lasting and more versatile than a season-only dress. Hermes and Mulberry have effectively targeted consumers move away from conspicuous consumption: ‘Mulberry with its authentic and understated designs is striking a chord, not just in the UK, but also worldwide, because over-the-top extravagant consumption just isn’t in favour right now.”

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Does luxury fashion therefore have an even more important role to play in upholding high social and environmental standards in the context of a struggling global economy where other sectors struggle to survive and perceive their immediate priority to be their bottom line, let alone a second or third bottom line?

Sustainable slump argues that the recession is an ideal opportunity for luxury brands to forge a new image for themselves based on real, reportable and transparent efforts towards environmental and social sustainability. This will provide an important source of competitive advantage and consolidate market share, even whilst the recession rages, adding value for consumers – not just through the quality and presitge of their brand, but through their potential for superior environmental and social perfomance – and setting a precedent for how businesses can work with producers (and all the players in the value chain) and the environment to deliver long-lasting, meaningful change at scale.

During the recession, consumption has been changing for a range of products. But we are concerned with how products that are sustainable [for environment and development] are faring. This graph [“recession’s crosshairs”] attempts to capture two simultaneous trends — in total product sales during recession and in those sustainable niches. untitled1While this graph has its problems — for instance, quality issues are not displayed — broad trends and crucially differences among products is evident. This means, different policy prescriptions for different economic times. Here, coffee category sales are up, but niche sales [e.g. Rainforest Alliance] way down; while chocolate [Fair Trade] up – partially owing to chocolate’s role as a “treat” but also owing to Cadbury’s inclusion of Fair Trade cocoa in its Dairy Milk bars.

  • Is this a good way to represent these Slump-induced changes?
  • Are our calculations/positionings correct?
  • How could all this be improved?

In the UK, consumption of frozen food is up, but what does this mean for sustainable development through consumption? Does this mean healthier Brits upping their veg intake or a rational bargain-hunters’ substitute for fresh produce? How is the health of fresh produce suppliers from the developing world faring?

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Hot freeze: frozen-food retailer Iceland’s bullish comments “we are not taking part in this recession”, frozen food sales rising 7% across the category at supermarkets, total frozen food sales expected to top £5billion this year.

Favouring developed world: Frozen foods favour the highly capitalised larger firms with access to freezing facilities and cold chains. They favour those companies with ability to store product for several months, even years, in order to take advantage of market conditions. Many developing country producers are able to access these markets.

Furthermore, frozen has been a forgotten category for the past ten years and declining. Investments from companies in sustainable development aspects to their supply chains are conspicuously absent and certainly far below those for fresh produce.

Sustainableslump is keeping a watching brief to see if this trend is a substitute or a complement for the fresh produce sector. The exacting conditions that many internationally traded fresh produce are grown under in developing countries are among the world’s most stringent, according to GlobalGAP and DFID. IIED has calculated over one million livelihoods in Africa depend on the UK consumption of imported fresh produce from rural Africa.

Is there a market opportunity for more sustainable standards to enter the frozen foods market?