Chapter 2, titled “Cotton in Egypt: Assisting Decision-Makers to Understand Costs and Benefits,” by Helmy Abouleish, Thoraya Seada, and Nadine Greiss, details a 2020 study that compares the price of conventional versus organic farming in Egypt — a country with extreme soil erosion and drought.

“Organic food is in fact already cheaper to produce than conventional products, if the externalized costs for pollution, CO2 emissions, energy, and water consumption are considered,” Abouleish, Seada, and Greiss write. “These are currently transferred to society or future generations, but if they would appear on supermarket bills, this would be evident to everyone.”

Similarly, chapter 9 explores how a true cost accounting approach may help encourage almond growers in Central California to use regenerative farming practices.

In “Foster Healthy Soils in California: Farmer Motivations and Barriers,” Authors Joanna Ory and Alastair Iles explain that the upfront cost of purchasing, planting, and growing cover crops often dissuades farmers from using the technique. Less than 5% of intensive vegetable farmers along with the Central California coast use cover crops.

The authors argue that growers are unaware of, or don’t understand, the environmental, social, and economic benefits of cover crops. They point to improved bee health, erosion control, water filtration, carbon storage, reduced use of synthetic fertilizers, and the prevention of soil health degradation. More information — and incentivizing policies — could lead to a greater uptake of sustainable agriculture practices.

Limited knowledge about the costs and benefits of the agriculture industry also impacts shoppers.

Consumers are often unaware that for every dollar they spend on food, they pay an additional dollar in hidden costs, authors Patrick Holden and Adele Jones write. Those costs can crop up as taxes to clean up polluted waterways, or as environmental degradation that will affect future generations to come.

The book also highlights success stories of communities that have learned how to price commodities holistically.

The book’s collaborators see “True Cost Accounting for Food,” as a powerful resource for food systems change, containing solutions like sustainability investing and agricultural subsidy reform. True cost accounting “has the transformative potential to amplify the positive benefits of food systems,” editor Lauren Baker tells Food Tank.

Originally published by Food Tank.