New Global Study Reveals Gaps Between Consumers, Farmers

Worldwide, consumers believe farmers are to blame for environmental problems. This is a rare multi-country look at the issue.

Published on: Nov 8, 2011

A new global survey reveals surprisingly strong agreement between consumers and farmers on some issues – and some less surprising results regarding environmental worries.

Both farmers and consumers view farming as a vocation, one that is dedicated to providing nourishment, supporting rural culture and caring for the land. Consumers have high personal respect for farmers, but believe their reputation in society remains low.

The survey, sponsored by BASF, included 1,800 farmers and 6,000 consumers in Brazil, India, United States, Germany, Spain and France. It was conducted by market research company Synovate.

The survey did show some gaps between the two groups. “Caretaker of the land” was the farmers’ favorite self-description in all six countries (over 80%), but that label registered significantly lower with consumers (50-60%).

In almost all countries, consumers think farmers are often to blame for environmental problems, with concerns strongest in Brazil, India and France, followed by the U.S. says Harald Hasselmann, managing director at Synovate.

When were asked how satisfied they were with their current situation, farmers in Brazil and the U.S. gave the highest marks, while those in France and Spain were the least satisfied.

Consumers show varied interest in farming, from 84% in India to 50% in France, and they admit they do not know enough about farming to judge it properly. Farmers also see an understanding gap among consumers, ranging from 40% in the U.S. to 74% in India.

Four out of five consumers and farmers agreed that feeding the entire world is a clear objective and challenge for farmers. Even so, a majority of world farmers believe consumers do not understand the full dimension of the food supply challenge, or the real challenges of production agriculture.

A key finding is that farmers do not believe consumers would pay more for food produced in an environmentally friendly way. And, many consumers who say they are willing to pay more, actually will refuse at the point of sale, says Hasselmann.

Consumers and farmers both see subsidies as a way to keep food prices low, especially in India (74%), Brazil (67%) and Germany (64%). But they don’t believe subsidies play a role in caring for the environment.

From an industry perspective, farmers want more support from agribusiness, in the form of more sustainable products and a better representation in public. Brazilian and Indian farmers want more training, too.

“Many farmers regard the industry as mainly a supplier, but they are willing to move more toward a value partnership,” says Hasselmann.

BASF conducted the study, in part, because of its shift in global strategy beginning two years ago. The company, which posted sales of (USD) $87 billion in 2010, is shifting from a product focus to a holistic approach in agriculture. New business units have been set up to address sustainability and solutions for resource and stress management.

“It is our job to understand the increasingly complex environment of the farming community,” says Stefan Marcinowski, a BASF member of the board of executive directors. “We are looking at the changing attitudes of farmers and we have to take our conclusions and make solutions for farmers.

“Our business colleagues had some convincing arguments – if you really want to live up to our new strategy, we have to know what we’re talking about and where we’re headed,” he adds. “Even the technical guys know our success depends on more than just molecules. We are very dependent on connections between people and stakeholders. The better connected we are, the better we can develop the right solutions for agriculture.”