This article is part of our special report Short food supply chains in Europe’s south.
The development of short food supply chains, where intermediaries between farmers and consumers are removed, provides consumers with healthier food and especially in the case of Europe’s south, major opportunities to enhance agrotourism, Green MEPs told EURACTIV.com.
However, the new proposed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) does not favour this rising trend, they added.
The concept of short food supply chains (SFSC) was introduced in the 2014-2020 CAP and has risen in recent years.
According to a study carried out by the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS), in 2015, 15% of farmers sold half of their products through these short food supply chains.
The concept lies in the fact that farmers sell their products directly to consumers, meaning that products produced locally are also locally consumed.
On the other hand, critics suggest that such schemes can only provide benefits on a local level and are not a solution to the rising global population and food demand.
Florent Marcellesi, a Green MEP, emphasised the health aspect of SFSC and local food systems.
“We are already facing the health consequences of a food model based on the overconsumption of low-cost, industrial, highly processed food and meat that travel thousands of kilometers before ending in our plates,” he said.
The Spanish MEP said SFSC meant less processed food and also the possibility of more local plant-based diets by reducing the amount of industrially produced meat.
According to Marcellesi, with SFSC, especially for southern European countries, could have a spillover effect on other sectors of the economy such as agrotourism.
“The local gastronomy offer, based on high-quality local ingredients, is more and more valued in rural tourism in general and agrotourism in particular. This is a great opportunity for rural areas to create jobs and opportunities,” he said.
Green MEP Maria Heubuch shares a similar view: “Many people are looking for unique and authentic experiences of rural life. The combination of agro-tourism and short food supply chains can provide these experiences.”
“At the same time, it can provide an income to farming communities. It’s a win-win situation,” the German MEP said.
CAP favors exports
According to the European Commission’s proposals for the post-2020 CAP, it will be up to the member states to decide how to use their funding allocations and therefore, the SFSC concept.
The new “delivery model” provides member states with flexibility to come up with strategies adjusted to their different needs.
The proposed CAP budget has prioritised the direct payments pillar to ensure farmers’ income, though it would still suffer a 10% cut, while the rural development pillar, under which SFSC fall, will be cut by 25%.
“Member states will also have the option to transfer up to 15% of their CAP allocations between direct payments and rural development and vice-versa to ensure that their priorities and measures can be funded,” an EU spokesperson recently told EURACTIV.
Greece together with France, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Finland has signed a joint declaration opposing the CAP budget cuts. The declaration was endorsed at a later stage by Cyprus and Bulgaria.
Both Green MEPs criticised the Commission’s approach, saying it lacks of ambition when it comes to SFSC and urged policymakers to put rural development at the core of the next CAP.
“Instead, it has cut the budget for strategic funds by 25%, while still promoting an export-oriented farming model. If we are to promote short-circuit food, we should be encouraging smallholdings,” Marcellesi said.
Heubuch stated that in addition to the 25% cuts in rural development, its measures are voluntary and need to be co-financed by member states.
“Therefore, the programs for short supply chains, which are foreseen and can be financed under pillar II, will hardly be enough to balance out the continued handouts to big agrifood corporations through pillar I,” she said.
She added that the Commission had failed to address the unfair distribution of power in the food supply chain either.
“Tackling unfair trade practices means looking at only a symptom of the massive concentration of power in the agriculture and food sector. The four largest German supermarket chains share 67% of the turnover with foodstuffs amongst them,” she said.
A common framework
There are currently several types of SFSC, ranging from Community-Supported Agriculture to on-farm sales and farmers’ markets. On Community-Supported Agriculture, France tops the list followed by Belgium.
Copa-Cogeca, the EU farmer and cooperatives’ association, said it was important to create instruments that promote short supply chains and local sales networks as an additional outlet for farmers.
“Creating a common framework for identifying such initiatives at EU level could potentially help to meet the specific needs of those wishing to inform consumers in a more effective way about the added-value of their products,” Copa-Cogeca told EURACTIV.com.
According to EU farmers, such a framework could prove particularly useful for certain types of producers who may potentially be interested in a European quality scheme (PDO, PGI, and TSG) or another national, regional, public or private certification scheme, but who may be unable to access such a scheme owing to the excessive financial or administrative constraints imposed.
“The issue of short supply chains and local sales must not be limited to the creation of an EU value enhancing product claim. In order to overcome the difficulties faced by producers and producer groups interested in such initiatives, we believe that it is also important for other specific provisions to be taken at EU level, particularly in the field of promotion and under the Rural Development Policy,” Copa said.
Copa believes that it would only make sense to create such a tool if it remains consistent with existing provisions, mainly at the national level.
“This would ensure that efforts already taken by certain member states in this field would not be adversely affected (e.g. creating local sales channels to integrate local initiatives, such as introducing quality schemes, product origin indications, the French scheme “Produit fermier”, etc).”