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From Fordism to post-Fordism: what is the role of certifications in agriculture, livestock and agroindustry?

Production and trades of foods have gained increasing importance in economic and social debates since the 1950’s, since when European countries and the United States have been concerned with policies to encourage agriculture and livestock production. The “Farm Bill” in the United States and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the European Union were created to ensure access of the population to staple food, allaying the ghost of scarcity during the periods of the Great Wars and the crisis in the 1930’s.


Agriculture went through a period of production and productivity increase, using a new technological package: agricultural mechanization, chemical fertilizers, efficient pesticides and improved seeds. This “Green Revolution” had a deep impact on supply of fresh and agroindustrialized foods worldwide. This was to mark the Fordist period in agriculture and livestock, characterized by standardization of processes and supply at large scale of food commodities.


Fordism in agriculture lasted from 1960’s to 1990’s, when European, American and Japanese consumers became more demanding for food characteristics, ranging from production to nutritional and taste factors.


Initially, the most relevant consumption niche was organic foods: food produced without the use of fertilizers and pesticides, antibiotics and growth promoters. Another niche in the food market is the Fair Trade, which values production from family farming and craftsmen, favoring fair remuneration to these workers. These products are traded at higher prices compared to conventional ones and at specific stores.


These market segments are increasing significantly in developed and emerging countries and have encouraged the expansion of global supply, as they are based on consumers’ concerns with production conditions, producers’ revenue, environment preservation, reduction of the use of chemicals, among other aspects.


However, these products require “certification” to be traded, because consumers cannot differentiate an organic or Fair Trade product from a conventional one. Therefore, certifying companies ensure that production follows practices required by each label, after a process analysis and scheduled visits. The certification means more costs for producers, which can be offset by higher selling prices than conventional foods.


To date, higher remuneration and profitability are considered appealing to producers. However, apparently, there is a downward trend in the gain paid for these products. In part, this can be related to the supply increase of food with socioenvironmental labels that guarantee compliance of productive process with environmental and social laws in the country of origin. This trend would be a discouragement for producers due to high costs.


However, results of studies performed by researchers from Cepea, Esalq/USP, Imaflora and the Post-Graduation Program on Applied Economics from Esalq show that agricultural certification has benefits that were not observed in previous research. Production yield and management tend to improve with certification and generate important benefits to producers. Therefore, crop profitability increases and enables producers to cover certification costs, which allows them to trade their products at prices similar to those of conventional foods.


Another relevant aspect is that certification of farms reduces environmental and social risks, improving the access to credit.


Overall, research shows that certification brings improvements to management procedures and products, increasing operational results at farms and allowing sales of a differentiated product for market niches that prioritize quality.


A complete understanding of the certification effects on agriculture is still far; besides, affirming that it will be a requirement to productive chains in periods of differentiated food markets is also farfetched. Further research is needed for a better understanding and better planning of the activity. For the time being, it is hoped that supply of coffee, fruits, cheese, meat, sugar and other certified foods increase, leading to healthier eating habits and tastier foods.


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