The Divulga Study Center, in collaboration with the Global Coalition of Farmers’ Markets (WFMC), recently published a report articulating pathways for global agricultural markets to cultivate sustainable alternatives to the industrialized food system.
The report aims to provide information for the new WFMC, which was recently launched at the United Nations Food Systems Pre-Summit to facilitate the creation of farmers’ markets around the world. Examining independent farmers’ markets led by civil society in Australia, Denmark, Ghana, Italy, Japan, Norway, UK and US, researchers compare tools to boost sales direct.
To understand how farmers’ markets can serve as alternative modes of food supply, researchers consider four key dimensions: organization and structure, efficiency, service and marketing, and culture. The report then breaks down these four areas into ideas at the national level to strengthen and support farmers’ markets.
Richard McCarthy, US Research Group member for WFMC and contributor to the report, describes a common emerging trend across North and South: “Civil society-led independent producer markets that promise transparency, predictable rules and regulations and a break from the past are flourishing, ”he told Food Tank.
The report also finds that farmers’ markets can help stabilize farm incomes better than conventional distribution channels, such as supermarkets or hypermarkets. Likewise, farmers’ markets can ensure fair incomes for small farmers by promoting agronomically healthy agriculture that preserves biodiversity, respects seasonality and has a low environmental impact. Farmers’ markets can also help grow local and rural economies, allowing for a deeper perspective on community-supported agriculture.
The report explains that the success of farmers’ markets depends on a diverse set of specific resources. In addition to material resources, including infrastructure, soil, water and biodiversity, researchers stress the importance of organizational and collective resources. An example includes social capital which facilitates the flow of information, promoting consumer awareness and relationship strengths.
Globally, the report highlights the central role of women in managing local food communities and developing relationships between farmers and consumers. Short food supply chains, such as farmers’ markets, stimulate the inclusion of women entrepreneurs in agriculture.
In Japan, the teikei food movement was born in the 1960s with a group of women which aimed to reconnect organic producers and consumers through mutual aid. In Ghana Municipality of Yendi, women produce and sell local products such as shea butter. And in Norway, farmers’ markets are flourishing thanks to the contributions of women farmers to direct marketing initiatives.
Farmers’ markets also offer new opportunities to cultivate shared experiences based on trust and exchange, despite disturbances during the first wave of lockdowns linked to COVID-19. McCarthy notes that the drive to be recognized as “essential services” and not just “special events” fosters innovation and resilience. Some innovations include drive-through farmers markets, curbside delivery, and temporary makeshift markets reaching smaller outlets in Bangladesh and Vietnam.
The study also shows the importance of taking regional differences into account when assessing markets. Farmers’ markets and small farms in northern countries are at risk of collapsing due to pressures from modern and global agrifood systems, the report says.
McCarthy tells Food Tank that the biggest difference between northern and southern markets is that northern markets “have been marginalized for so long that when they survive or reappear, they do so on the fringes. They are no longer the primary means by which consumers buy their food.
Nonetheless, the report shows that farmers’ markets can thrive with greater institutional support for short food supply chains and the emphasis on environmentally friendly agriculture. This will allow both small farmers and consumers to ensure fair prices.
In southern countries, however, local means of providing food represent the main source of food security for rural populations. In urban centers that have experienced rapid urbanization, short food supply chains, including street food sales, have proliferated over the past three and a half decades.
“In the Global South, where markets for every conceivable rule set – or lack thereof – can proliferate,” says McCarthy, “it is the great desire of farmers and buyers to wipe out and rebuild relationships in new contexts. This desire, coupled with the growth of short food supply chains in urban centers, may ultimately strengthen urban-rural links, stimulating market opportunities in peri-urban areas.
The report concludes that farmers’ markets need to develop knowledge sharing practices and create social capital that values the uniqueness of local gastronomy as an alternative to the industrialized food system.
“Farmers’ markets are the vehicle for creating proximity between those who have become so disparate and foreigners. Direct social contact between farmer and buyer, regardless of race, language, gender, age and class, triggers the kind of social cohesion that builds trust and understanding, ”says McCarthy.
Photo courtesy of Alex Hudson, Unsplash