Income Measurement

Sustainable livelihoods are the goal of countless initiatives, leaving many wondering if and how companies and organizations can effectively measure income gains and improvements beyond adoption of good agricultural practices. Mars, Inc. opened the discussion by illustrating why measuring income is important to their business, both for securing a sustainable supply of raw materials and ensuring that mutual benefit is derived by farmers and business. Focusing on partner/supplier collaboration and understanding the multi-dimensionality of income, the company is using net crop income measurement to try to lift farmers out of poverty in the areas where poverty is most pervasive and where they have the most leverage to affect change.

The ISEAL Alliance and Sustainable Food Lab facilitated the remainder of the group discussion, by introducing how different actors think about income, the many different ways that organizations/companies are currently going about measuring income, and the benefits and challenges that come with income measurement.

The group discussion that ensued focused on why some actors choose to measure income while some do not, insights on experience with measuring income, and discussion about who the responsible actors are for measuring income.

Those in the room debated whether companies should be measuring income and how to do so in an appropriate way. While some believed it was unethical for companies to ask such personal questions of their farmers, others believed it was their duty to know their farmers’ economic status and how they make spending decisions in order to be able intervene appropriately. There was less debate around the ethics of NGOs and government collecting this information, noting that measuring income was vital both to program design and to monitoring Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) commitments.

Moreover, those in the room discussed roles and responsibilities of different actors. Even those companies who felt that it was within their responsibility to measure and improve income for those with whom they work were adamant that this was not a problem they could tackle by themselves. All agreed that companies have responsibilities to their farming families, but that society had to do its part in providing a favorable enabling environment (roads, education, etc.)

The issue was raised that where income measurement or living income benchmarks/cost of living were already being measured, it would be helpful for that information to be housed in a central place (similar to the HEA website).  Stored centrally, the data could be utilized by many actors, reducing the need to ask burdensome or invasive questions, and to creating a shared understanding of the situation in a sector or geographic area to facilitate collaboration.

The debate about if and how to measure living income will continue to be a theme within this community of practice as well as in the wider field of sustainable agriculture.

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