Shared Value a Wishful Win-Win

I spent a semester of undergrad in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Most people living on the island were subsistence farmers, growing cassava, tomatoes and rice to feed their families and put a little money in their pockets if they were lucky. Coming from a place where our farms are almost entirely disconnected from the rest of our food system, I was immediately drawn to them. I started working on a research project looking at pesticide use on the island – what pesticides were being used, how and when they were being used, and who was using them.

I wasn’t surprised by the high level of pesticide use so much as the lack of knowledge and understanding that it was accompanied by. Many of the chemicals the farmers were using were imported from Europe and the United States – their labels and directions for use reflected this. Most of the farmers couldn’t read or write in their native languages, let alone translate complicated and sensitive instructions from English or French. I found some farmers using a pesticide intended for a cashew beetle being used on rice paddies. They ended up losing most of their crop yield to blight despite the added chemicals. Many farmers complained of dizziness and rashes after application of some chemicals and very few reported wearing any protective gear to prevent these symptoms.

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What I thought of while I was reading Creating Shared Value was how all of these farmers could seriously benefit from trainings or translated materials to accompany their purchases from pesticide companies. If farmers could use their products more effectively, they could hypothetically achieve higher crop yields and make a little extra cash to get them by in a year. They could have more resiliency and financial independence. If they knew how to use the pesticides more safely, they would benefit from a higher degree of long-term health. Pesticide companies could benefit by demonstrating the chemicals’ value and their commitment to their clients and products, thereby increasing their customer base. If more farmers believe these products are working, it seems likely that more will use them, increasing the company’s profits.

My concern is that there isn’t a way to quantify the shared value before companies launch programs like these. I wonder if companies in fields that lack surveillance from the general public (such as a pesticide company) will feel the same pressure to institute shared value policies. Despite the examples given in the text, I find it hard to believe that shared value can truly equally benefit both parties equally and create true shared value – it seems like in one way or another, in real life, one party will always have to make a concession or compromise. But, it is well worth a try for the benefit of longevity and public good. If it does work, it could create a more just and symbiotic world.

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