The highly anticipated EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F), which was intended to favour short distribution routes, has been postponed to a later date. However, the current COVID-19 crisis is speeding up the agricultural sector’s shift towards food self-sufficiency. EURACTIV France reports.
The public health crisis has disorganised distribution channels, and farmers are trying to reorganise themselves to reach consumers in France, despite the crisis. It has also put the F2F strategy, the new EU food policy, back on the shelves of the European Commission.
While it was supposed to favour short distribution channels and insist on the quality of supply, the COVID-19 crisis is helping ensure some of these objectives are being met.
International transport does not work – or not very well – and consumers have to rely on local products. Stocks of soy sauce and seaweed leaves, for example, are running out, discouraging consumers from trying exotic recipes in favour of more local dishes.
Some chains are also disorganised: eggs are regularly out of stock in supermarkets as consumers are scrambling to buy the cheaper protein, which is also used to make cakes. While supply is not at all elastic – as it takes several months to raise a hen that can lay eggs – small egg producers are not hesitating to hike prices.
For instance, in the Paris region, organic eggs sell for one euro each, compared to 50 cents before the health crisis. “Intermediaries take advantage of this, but in a big city, it’s complicated to get direct access to producers,” admitted Paul, who runs an organic grocery store in the centre of Paris.
In the dairy sector, dairy farms have been quick to ask producers to reduce their delivery volumes, in some cases by 15-20%. This came although the spring ‘s green grass and the cows’ return to the fields resulted in a volume increase of 10-15%, an annual peak for production usually translating into months of higher income for producers.
After some delay, the European Commission has finally decided to increase subsidies for the conservation of milk powder, butter and cheese.
In an attempt to avoid scarcity and speculation, direct sales platforms from producer to consumer are gaining momentum. Group purchasing structures for fruit and vegetables, such as Kelbongoo, the “Ruche qui dit Oui”, as well as community-supported agriculture groups, known as Amap in France, are operating at full capacity and are overwhelmed by demand.
Faced with the crisis, the regions, departments and municipalities have strongly accelerated the development and enhancement of platforms that allow direct orders from consumers to producers, such as the “Au rendez-vous des Normands” website in the Normandy region.
A geolocation application has been developed, backed by local currency, called the RolloN, to put consumers and producers in closer contact. The Grand Est region also offers a comparable service, Loc’Halles Grand Est, while a website offers local food in the Centre Val de Loire area
However, according to the country’s Chambers of Agriculture, the general picture is a mixed one.
While farmers are losing income due to declining volumes and the closure of markets, or difficulties in selling on the farm because of distances, solutions such as the “Drive Farmers”, developed by the “Bienvenue à la ferme” label, have made strong progress, with weekly sales quadrupling since the start of the health crisis.
Despite these initiatives, changing consumer habits are driving down demand, especially for products that are often sold in bars and restaurants, such as meat, cheese, wine and spirits.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Gerardo Fortuna]