In spring 2019, I travelled to Jordan for the first time (in fact it was my first time to the Middle East, having worked in Africa, Asia, Central America and Europe up till then). In addition, it was my first time to work on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) (ethical, social and environmentally responsible business) in the fresh fruit and vegetable sector (having worked mainly in floriculture before that). Since the Dutch government agency, Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI), which is currently working in Jordan, has as its mission: “We connect SMEs in developing countries to the European market and thereby contribute to a sustainable and inclusive economic growth” – in terms of “sustainable and inclusive economic growth”, I was asked to gauge the status of CSR on the farms and in Jordan generally
So what was I expecting?
To be very honest with you, I was expecting desert – a whole lot of brown! Sandy, arid and dry conditions. And I was expecting the farms to be similar to the big, commercial flower farms I was used to working with.
You can imagine how pleasantly, and greatly, surprised I was when travelling from Amman (700 m above sea level), to the Jordan Valley (400 meters below sea level), I saw lush green hills and pools of water along the way (which meant a generous amount of mud on the farms, but that’s another story!). As we started our descent to the farms, I looked across the Jordan Valley and saw an oasis – it was truly beautiful! The farms we visited were also totally different to what I had in my mind’s eye for comparison.
On the farms I met people who demonstrated a great deal of perseverance and resilience in the face of what can only be considered very tough circumstances! In the conversations I had, I was struck by the respect shown to the fathers on these (mainly) family farms, as well as the undeniable knowledge of production processes.
Every so often, some-one would make a comment and I’d think “there’s a ‘seed’ of CSR thinking”. One such comment was “Allah gave us a clean world, we should keep it that way”. That’s an excellent place to start when thinking about the impact of the farm’s activities on the environment! Another comment was “I sometimes look around the farm and ask myself ‘how would I like to work under these conditions?’”. Again – an excellent place to start thinking about consequences for employees working on the farm!
These ‘seeds’ could furthermore be found in housing provided, in working conditions, in production processes – to a lesser or greater extent, at each farm the owner was already doing CSR without recognizing it as such. That too is an excellent place to start – what are you already doing and how can you build on that?
Of course, I also saw there was room for improvement and that’s fine – CSR is daily business practice. And the word “practice” implies doing something regularly or repeatedly to improve your skill at doing it – in other words, consistently working in that way. Practice also implies it takes time, it’s a process – the important thing is, to start!