Short food supply chains are growing ever more common in the EU as both producers and consumers alike see the benefits of supplying and consuming locally-produced goods. According to a study carried out by the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS), in 2015, 15% of the community’s farmers sold half of their products through short food supply chain.
European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC), an organisation that defends farmers’ rights and sustainable farming says that an increasing number of farms in northern Europe sell directly. For instance, in Austria, 27% of farms sell directly and for half of these, direct sales account for the majority of their revenues. In France, the number is over one in five farms, especially in the southeast.
The ECVC found that partnerships between consumers and producers is becoming more common, such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or AMAP (Association pour le Maintien d’une Agriculture Paysanne) in France. Consumers pay growers up-front for the food they want, which allows farms and families to form a network of mutual support.
Speaking to EURACTIV, the ECVC criticised the executive’s proposals for the post-2020 CAP, saying that they do not promote such schemes. “We can truly say that farm products and short circuits are developing despite the CAP and not thanks to it. Despite claiming to be modern, the new CAP is largely conservative and in no way promotes short food supply chains, even though they are supported by an increasing number of consumers.”
The organisation said the new CAP would still be based on per hectare payments. “These farms, which are generally small, receive only small payments when they receive them. Conversely, the large payments granted to the largest farms lead to unfair competition for access to land for people who want to settle in modest areas and who cannot keep up with rising land prices.”
In an effort to protect farmers’ fragile income from price volatility and reduce the pressure from large operators, the European Commission presented on 12 April its much-awaited proposals for a directive to tackle unfair trade practices in the food supply chain. With these proposals, the executive aims to restore the imbalance in the food supply chain and provide trading partners with weak bargaining power, such as individual farmers, with safeguards.
According to Copa-Cogeca, the EU farmers’ association, farmers receive on average 21% of the share of the value of the agricultural product whilst 28% goes to processors and as much as 51% to retailers. For ECVC, though, the farmers’ main problem is not addressed: low prices imposed within a value chain dominated by oligopoly and the lack of profitability of their work.
In addition, they say the directive does not cover the control and sanction of abusive practices of all operators in the agri-food chain. “Controlling and sanctioning practices only on small and medium-sized farmers can lead operators to buy agricultural products where they do not have to comply with regulations. On the other hand, the directive does not cover one of the most harmful practices for farmers, which is selling at a loss or payments to farmers below the cost of production.”