Strengthen social, community based food systems and ensure the survival of small food producers and local markets

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food sovereignty grain coverSubhash Sule, CHS-Sachetan’s director, sent a link to a report by GRAIN, ‘a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled, biodiversity-based food systems’.

It recently published the 20 page report about the way supermarkets are undermining people’s control over food and farming in Asia.

A Bangalore case history was given which is summarised here.

nirmalIn Bangalore’s Bazaar Street, kiosk trader Nirmal has been leading 200 or so other traders with shops in Bazaar Street in a successful 20-year resistance against eviction to make way for the construction of a new mall. Occupants would typically be retailers like the transnational giant Metro, which has already opened a wholesale market a few hundred metres away. Corporate supermarkets are expanding rapidly in Asia, taking revenue out of traditional food systems – out of the hands of peasants, small scale food producers and traders.

In Nirmal’s view, losing the stalls would affect not only the traders, but their regular customers. “Most of the customers are unskilled labourers on day wages. In the supermarket you cannot ask to buy cooking oil for only 5 rupees (8 cents US),” he says. “These low income customers that we serve every day won’t be able to afford to buy anything if these stalls are to be replaced by a mall.”

In this prime location, not far from the railway station, an agricultural produce market committee, created by the government to facilitate farmers to sell their produce and get reasonable prices, has enabled local farmers of surrounding villages to bring fresh produce, fruits, vegetables, and spices.

There is, however, some dissatisfaction with the APMC’s (regulations, charges and delayed payments) and on October 1st it was reported that the Delhi government has issued a notification allowing the opening of new wholesale markets in the capital, which will be outside the purview of the three APMC markets. Read on here.

20i2 Delhi demo by street vendors

20i2 Delhi demo by street vendors

Continuing a campaign ongoing for some years, on 5 February 2014, thousands of street vendors marched on the Indian Parliament pressing for the adoption of a Street Vendors Bill and the reversal of national policies that allow foreign companies to invest in the retail sector.

Almost 40 million people in India still rely on the informal trade sector and fresh markets, so the resistance is fierce.

Asia’s small traders are the final link in the local food supply chain that ensures the procurement and distribution of food grown on millions of small farms across the region. These traders usually procure their fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, eggs and fish from wholesale markets where nearby farmers bring their produce every day.

Corporate retailers rely on totally different systems of procurement and distribution. Each supermarket chain coordinates its own procurement of products centrally for all of its outlets around the world. Foods are supplied by transnational companies that can consistently supply large volumes according to exacting standards set by supermarkets. Procurement and distribution for supermarkets is fully integrated, “from farm to table” as they like to say.

In Bangalore some farmers have been drawn into making contracts with companies supplying supermarkets, promising guaranteed markets, stable and higher prices and technical assistance. But farmers say the terms and conditions they must follow are too complicated and onerous; their harvests are often rejected and go to waste, and payments by the contractors are regularly late.

Rudresh, a farmer from Hoskote said “I’ve been growing vegetables and selling it directly to the consumers in nearby market. I do not know how to sell it to Metro. They only buy the top quality produce, but in the local market I sell all my vegetables, at varying prices, according to the quality”.

nagpur marketA snapshot from a videoed walking tour of a market in Nagpur

Another farmer from the same district says that retail companies are trying to take control of a piece of land where a farmers’ market has existed for decades: “They plan to build a huge market complex that would of course be occupied by big companies. Where shall we go and sell our produce?”

Conclusion

The current global food distribution system is unsustainable and undermines food sovereignty. The expansion of supermarkets puts small farmers in direct competition with industrial agriculture, and also has negative impacts on local markets and communities, with major implications for the entire food chain. Corporate supermarkets are expanding faster in Asia than anywhere else on the planet and taking revenue out of the hands of peasants, small scale food producers and traders.

Across the region, there is growing awareness of the threat posed by global retailers and a growing resistance against their expansion. GRAIN urges continued envisioning, building strategies and alternatives to the supermarket model of food distribution, moving forward in a way that strengthens social, community based and public food systems and assures the survival of small food producers and local markets.

The report may be read in pdf format by clicking on a link here.

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