Mainstream agriculture used to be largely organic, without the pesticides and chemical fertilizers that are now a key part of European farming. However, this has changed dramatically over the past six decades. Mainstream agriculture has become highly industrialized, with widespread use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. This far-reaching change has resulted in some serious problems.
At the same time consumption of food has increased markedly, to feed a growing and increasingly affluent population. Demand has prompted many agricultural producers to explore ways to produce more and more food on less and less land. At the same time, some consumers have chosen to grow, and buy, more sustainably produced food.
The issue for the future
Mainstream farming, and the world’s current patterns of consumption, are neither sustainable nor resilient. Pollution from pesticides and chemical fertilizers work at the expense of nature, and exacerbate climate change, creating a serious threat to the food security of future generations.
Mainstream food production methods, and many current diets, are unsustainable. In addition, the way the food chain is structured causes serious environmental, social and economic problems.
There is a growing gap between producers and consumers. Food products and commodities are shipped around the globe, using oil whose fluctuating price impacts the delivery of food globally, releasing CO2 and contributing to climate change.
The gap between producers and consumers has social consequences too. Food becomes anonymous, losing its cultural relevance, and consumers become unaware of where their food comes from and the way it has been produced.
But there is another side to this story. In recent years, demand for organic food, produced in a sustainable way, has increased. The number of organic farmers has grown rapidly at the same time.
In 2008 the total value of the European organic market was an estimated EUR18 billion, an increase of around 12% on the previous year. Germany, France, the UK and Italy represent the largest markets for organic products. In the European Union, around 4% of agricultural land is farmed organically.
Triodos Banks’ vision
Food is fundamental to human life. So it is essential to produce it in a sustainable way, in balance with nature providing consumers with diets that can be supplied sustainably.
Organic farming can do just that. It avoids pesticides, chemical fertilizers and genetically modified crops, and it involves higher standards of animal welfare. Instead of disturbing the ecological balance, organic farming strengthens and develops it.
Organic farming is characterised by its balanced approach. It guarantees high quality and healthy food, now and in the future. Organic agriculture recognises the relationship between our environment, our health and the food we eat.
Sustainable and organic farming is not just about production on the farm, or energy efficiency. The way the whole food chain is organised is critical to a sustainable food supply. It should be transparent and short, with a focus on local and seasonal food as far as possible. This can foster a direct relationship between producer, product and consumer.
Short, transparent food chains raise awareness among consumers, are energy efficient, and improve opportunities for businesses providing a better food and farming system.
The story of food
A strong relationship between producers and consumers transforms the linear food chain into a more circular one encouraging producers and consumers to communicate with each other.
Food production could lose its anonymity and become part of a social network, and be offered and enjoyed in a social context. That’s important because food is part of the story of our lives, communities and well-being.
So what does Triodos Bank do about it?
Triodos Bank has financed organic agriculture for over 30 years, financing the entire organic food chain, from producers and processors to retailers and restaurants.
In 2012 Triodos Bank provided almost EUR 187 million (1,310 loans) to finance organic projects, covering an area of 22,034 hectares (2011: 23,000 hectares).
Investing in innovation
Triodos Bank only provides finance for certified organic farms, and farmers converting to organic agriculture. It actively uses its broad network of organic farmers and stimulates the exchange of knowledge, experience and inspiration.
Triodos Bank is convinced that agriculture has much more to offer then food production alone. It encourages organic entrepreneurs to expand their activities and benefit the community more broadly, through initiatives such as cultural events, education, healthcare or ecological development.
Retail, restaurants and care farms
Triodos Bank finances retail businesses and restaurants using organic, and preferably locally produced seasonal products, as well as care farms. The entrepreneurs running these enterprises offer a wide variety of healthy and organic products, care for people with physical and learning disabilities, and focus on raising consumer awareness.