Farmers target growth through direct sales and short supply chains

Farmers can increase their profits by selling directly to consumers. [H.Michael Karshis/Flickr]

Farmers in France are seeking growth through direct sales, short supply chains and local agriculture, targeting a burgeoning market in local produce. EURACTIV France reports.

More and more consumers are choosing to eat local, and farmers are responding.

“The desire to move closer to the place of production is a deep-rooted trend, it is not just a fashion,” said Gérard Bazin, president of the Chambers of Agriculture of France’s Rhône region.

“The rising demand for organic and short supply chain products are two sides of the same coin,” added Claude Cochonneau, the president of the French Chambers of Agriculture.

In 2014, a study on French citizens and local consumption found that 75% of people wanted to buy more products from their local area. Short supply chains are reassuring for consumers, half of whom say they no longer feel like they know what they are buying.

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“We have reached a fairly dramatic state of disconnection,” Cochonneau said at a press conference in Paris.

Yet short supply chains and local agriculture are two separate concepts that are often confused.

Local agriculture refers to products sold in an area close to where they were produced, while short supply chains refer to products that reach consumers after passing through a small number of intermediaries. In the second case, the geographical distance from farm to fork is not necessarily reduced.

At European level, support for organic farming is one for the new priorities of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). But despite the efforts of the European Parliament, the EU’s flagship programme of agricultural studies still offers no help to farmers wishing to develop direct sales.

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“Today we are writing the new CAP, but we are concentrating mostly on guaranteeing a future for our farms,” said Cochonneau. “Support for short supply chains is not necessarily one of the CAP’s objectives.”

European framework

The question was raised in Brussels during discussions on the European rules governing the quality of food products, adopted in October 2010.

Yet the Commission finally decided against including measures on direct sales in the food quality legislation.

The subject resurfaced in a 2013 Commission report exploring the possibility of launching a local farming and direct sales labelling scheme, but no concrete action was taken.

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A 2007 Eurostat study revealed big differences between EU countries in terms of direct sales, despite widespread and growing demand from consumers.

According to the study, around 15% of all European farms sell more than half of their production directly to consumers. But the figures vary enormously from country to country, ranging from 25% in Greece to barely 0.1% in Spain.

The study also found a wide variety of labelling programmes identifying local and direct sale products across EU member states, raising the question of harmonising the label at European level.