New Report Highlights Global Farmers Markets Creating Alternatives to Industrialized Food System

The Centro Studi Divulga, in collaboration with the World Farmers Market Coalition (WFMC), recently published a report articulating pathways for global farmers markets to cultivate lasting alternatives to the industrialized food system.

The report aims to provide insights for the new WFMC, which recently launched at the U.N. Food Systems Pre-Summit to facilitate the establishment of farmers markets around the world. Looking across independent, civil society-led farmers markets in Australia, Denmark, Ghana, Italy, Japan, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the researchers compare tools to boost direct selling.

To understand how farmers markets can serve as alternative modes of food provisioning, the researchers consider four key dimensions: organization and structure, efficiency, service and marketing, and culture. The report then breaks down these four domains into national-level ideas to strengthen and support farmers markets.

Richard McCarthy, member of the USA Research Group for the WFMC and contributor to the report, outlines a common, emerging trend across the Global North and South: “Independent, civil-society-led farmers markets that promise transparency, predictable and fair rules and regulations, and a break from the past are flourishing,” he tells Food Tank.

The report also finds that farmers markets can help stabilize farm revenues better than conventional distribution channels, such as supermarkets or hypermarkets. Similarly, farmers markets can secure fair income to small farmers through promoting agronomically sound agriculture that preserves biodiversity, respects seasonality, and has a low environmental impact. Farmers markets can also help to regrow local and rural economies, enabling a deeper perspective of community-supported agriculture.

The report explains that the success of farmers markets relies on a diversified set of specific resources. In addition to material resources, including infrastructure, soil, water, and biodiversity, the researchers emphasize the importance of organizational and collective resources. One example includes social capital that facilitates the circulation of information, fostering consumer consciousness and relational assets.

Globally, the report highlights the centrality of women in managing local food communities and developing relationships between farmers and consumers. Short food supply chains, like farmers markets, boost the inclusion of women entrepreneurs in farming.

In Japan, the teikei food movement originated in the 1960s with a group of women who aimed to reconnect organic producers and consumers through mutual assistance. In Ghana’s Yendi Municipality, women are producing and selling local products like shea butter. And in Norway, farmers markets are flourishing thanks to women farmers’ contributions to direct marketing initiatives.

Farmers markets also provide new opportunities to cultivate shared experiences built upon trust and exchange, despite disruptions during the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns. McCarthy notes that the drive to gain recognition as “essential services” and not simply “special events” fosters innovation and resiliency. Some innovations include drive-through farmers markets, curbside delivery, and temporary, make-shift markets reaching smaller points of sale in Bangladesh and Vietnam.

The study also shows the importance of considering regional differences when evaluating markets. According to the report, farmers markets and smallholder farms in the Global North have faced the risk of collapse due to the pressures of modern, globalized agrifood systems.

McCarthy tells Food Tank the greatest difference between markets in the Global North and South is that markets in the North “have been marginalized for so long that when they survive or reappear, they do so along the margins. No longer do they represent the primary means by which consumers purchase their foods.”

Nonetheless, the report shows that farmers markets can flourish with greater institutional support for short food supply chains and an emphasis on environmentally-sound agriculture. This will allow both small farmers and consumers to secure fair prices.

In the Global South, however, local ways 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 vending, have proliferated in the last three and a half decades.

“In the Global South, where markets of every imaginable set of rules—or lack thereof—may proliferate,” says McCarthy, “it is the great desire among both farmer and shopper to wipe the slate clean and rebuild relationships in new settings.” This desire, coupled with the growth of short food supply chains in urban centers, can ultimately strengthen urban-rural linkages, boosting market opportunities in periurban areas.

The report concludes that farmers markets must develop knowledge-sharing practices and build social capital that values the uniqueness of the local gastronomy as an alternative to the industrialized food system. 

“Farmers markets are the vehicle to engineer proximity between those who have grown so disparate and foreign. Direct social contact between farmer and shopper, irrespective of race, language, gender, age and class, triggers the kind of social cohesion that builds trust and understanding,” McCarthy says.

Photo courtesy of Alex Hudson, Unsplash

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