By Leslie Barcus, VegFund Executive Director
The Microfinance Centre of Poland (MFC) invited VegFund to serve on two panels, one on Pushing the Boundaries of Responsible Finance: Lean, Green and Mean(ingful) and another on The Impact of Animal Agriculture Microfinance on Customers’ Health and Well-being as a part of the MFC 2014 Annual Microfinance Conference held recently in Istanbul.
Sponsored by VegFund, Dr. Richard Oppenlander, Founder of Inspiring Awareness Now and a noted author on promoting plant-based foods, addressed the ills and negative externalities resulting worldwide from animal agriculture. He spoke about the attribution of animal agriculture to global soil depletion, water overuse, land scarcity, pollution and the devastation to human communities of climate change.
Microfinance clients represent some of those people most deprived of clean and adequate water and access to land and are at risk of the loss of their homes and assets resulting from natural emergencies driven by climate change. They equally represent the estimated 800 million people who go hungry each and every day.
Jakub Sobiecki, a nutritionist and dietician from Poland and a second panelist sponsored by VegFund, noted the link between the increased consumption of animal fats in the developing world and the rise of chronic disease and related deaths from diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
The global microfinance community is dedicated to closing the financial inclusion gap across the developing world where the increase in the current global demand for meat and dairy is anticipated to rise by 80 percent in the coming years. The irony is that the developing world may effectively eat its financial and economic advances into yet greater problems of climate change, pollution, flooding, fresh water shortages, greater food insecurity and income vulnerability owing to poor diets.
Grappling with these challenges will bring greater financial and personal vulnerability to microfinance households. That, in turn, spells problems for risk management and financial performance for microfinance institutions. The potential for these scenarios suggests that the notion of responsible finance should include the care of the microfinance community for the well-being of clients and the environment as microfinance institutions reach for financial sustainability.
Aspiring to serve millions of low-income households around the world, those professionals working for financial inclusion have a unique opportunity to lead in the development of responsible and ethical finance through the redirection of feeding the planet with plant-based foods.
A healthier client base will translate into a lower rate incidence of illness, less vulnerability to household loss of income and less risk of loss for microfinance institutions.
The microfinance community can boost clients’ assets by helping people feed themselves more food with the input of fewer already scarce resources. Plant-based crops produce significantly more food using less water and less land compared to animal agriculture, and plants are significantly less polluting.
Promoting health, abundance and environmental sustainability for the world’s vulnerable poor is the essence of true sustainability and responsible finance.