Campaigner: Short food supply chain is more than selling local products

Geneviève Savigny selling her products directly to consumers. [Geneviève Savigny]

This article is part of our special report Short food supply chains in Europe’s south.

Short food supply chains have a multidimensional role to play. They can help revitalise European farms by encouraging young people to work the land, but they also provide cheap and healthy food to consumers and attract tourists, campaigner Geneviève Savigny told EURACTIV.com in an interview.

Geneviève Savigny is a campaigner with the European Coordination Via Campesina NGO (ECVC).

What are the advantages of short food supply chains in Southern Europe for EU farmers and consumers?

Short food chains and direct sales are a real opportunity to keep small and medium farms viable and enable newcomers to start farming. It enables access to good, fresh, typical and fairly cheap food to many consumers. It has always been present in Southern Europe. My area – Southern Alps is famous for its “provençal markets” and it part of the attraction for tourists.

It is regularly renewed with new forms of direct sales as well as new producers. Forty years ago, we had many goat farms starting up to produce goat cheese now considered as traditional cheese.

Lately, we’ve seen a lot of young people starting organic vegetable production on small-scale farms. And you can also see many other products: sheep milk and cheese, honey, wine, on-farm made bread, beer, herbs, essential oils, fruits jams and a wide range of preserves from the farm… One can almost get all he needs from local production.

There is continuous innovation in the means of distribution too; the traditional open market is now completed by the Community supported agriculture system (CSA-AMAP in France), order by internet with delivery at the local point, and collective farm shops which see a great development lately. Groups and associations with NGOs and local authorities seek to set specific schemes to enable access to good local food to urban poor people.

Many schools also have schemes to propose local products in their meals, some days per week or month. It’s not much dearer if you change the menu. A lot of this production is organic and of good quality. Anyway, if the quality is not there, you will have no success.

What are the challenges of promoting short food supply chains?

I see two main challenges to develop short chains: the main one is the problem of ill-adapted regulation and standards, concerning production, processing and sales. In fact, the EU regulation includes possible flexibility for small volumes of production, but local authorities are not always aware of it or willing to apply it. The collective organisation of small farmers is very important for this.

The second point is access to land for young people. Land is usually expensive, not easy to rent, and although demand is growing in many places, young people – including a lot of young women as I can see in my area -have utter difficulties to get into farming.

Can the new CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) help member states enhance this trend? Is it ambitious enough?

The CAP has never meant to support short chains. The big reform in 1992 was to drastically lower the prices of the European commodities so that EU producers could be competitive in a market, which was promised to globalisation with the creation of WTO and the inclusion of agriculture in the agreement.

Subsidies based on the surface were then set up to compensate. The more area you have, the more you get, and the less land you have, the less money you get.

And sometimes you get nothing at all if you are smaller than the minimum area decided in each country (three hectares in Italy, 5 in in the UK when you can make a living on one hectare with vegetable and direct sales). This hectare payment is too little to be a real support. We need to support new entrants on an active farmer basis especially during the first three years of his/her installation.

There are also measures in the second pillar, for investments in the farms, or collectively, but it depends on the national or regional programs and is not always set as a priority.

What are the side effects of the short food supply chain when it comes to other economic fields such as agrotourism especially in Europe’s south where we have high-quality products?

Indeed, a short chain is a basis for various activities such as agrotourism. To name a few, it’s very active in Italy, Slovenia, and many parts of France, where it contributes to the local economy. Cultural life is also enhanced in rural areas with amateurs or professional theatre groups, and all kinds of artistic creation.

And it’s also a contribution to the basic life in villages; keep the schools open, the shops and cafes. Just rural life.

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