During our International Knowledge Exchange in September 2022, we he held a producers’ roundtable, giving farmers and producers in the project an opportunity to introduce themselves and share their hopes and the challenges they face. Within the COACH project, improving the position of farmers in short food chains is a key objective, and facilitating interaction between farmers, public procurers, researchers and policy makers to allow a better understanding of agricultural realities is a key part of our exchanges. Read on to discover an article from our latest newsletter, which digs deeper into the experiences of farmers.
Many farmers talked of the extensive bureaucracy, and a lack of understanding of the reality of farmers among those who work within administrative roles. The participants explained that farmers often feel they are the only ones who understand what is at stake when it comes to legislative proposals or changes. Small-scale farmers sometimes find themselves doing much of the required legal work in order to protect things like local abattoirs, for the benefit of citizens in general. Furthermore, administrative and bureaucratic restrictions often prevent farmers from receiving support for their initiatives at all, adding another barrier to survival in small-scale farming.
Participants also explained that pricing is an essential issue to tackle if we want to ensure small farmers can keep operating. Many producers rely on cooperatives to pay above market prices in order to keep small-scale farmers going. There are schemes to guarantee fair prices for farmers being developed at grassroots level but they are difficult to scale up, not least because of the lack of political will to regulate markets.
A lot of responsibility falls to farmers themselves to educate consumers to understand their prices and the real costs of production behind the price, and a lot of time goes into making consumers allies. Current market forces have led people to believe that food can be produced much more cheaply than it is, and many consumers fail to understand that the prices they pay at supermarkets are only possible because of the subsides from European taxpayer’s money in the CAP. They also don’t understand that much of the money they pay goes to intermediaries and not the farmers themselves. Therefore, the farmers called for education to also be a bigger priority for policymakers.
Many producers are motivated to keep going because they have seen the realities of industrial food systems and the related problems and they want to take an alternative approach to farming: producing food they are happy to feed their own families.
Technology is often not scaled or developed with small farmers in mind. Many farmers felt technology is peddled as a silver bullet solution, without considering what farmers themselves want, or are able to invest in a sustainable way. Farmers want technology to be a tool made available to use in the way that is most appropriate for their setting, rather than an imposition that they are forced to accept to survive. For many years, farmers have achieved this successfully themselves – i.e. through sharing tools, developing shared abattoirs, etc, but this becomes harder when small farms are being forced out of business by public policies and there are fewer people to collaborate with. Resources should be given to supporting and strengthening these methods, instead of always resorting to new and costly technological solutions.
Producers also indicated that finding gender and age balance in projects is often a challenge which results in fewer women participating. Care work, and the desire of many young people to have a work-life balance is a huge barrier to generational renewal and gender balance within farming based on the typical current farming model. Many producers shared examples of how, through cooperation, collective approaches and farmer-led innovation, the beacons have managed to overcome this. Different producers discussed how they have developed governance structures, time sharing initiatives, and opportunities to share knowledge and resources with other farmers in order to achieve this much-needed balance and integrate more diverse profiles in their initiatives, to the benefit of the project.
Overall, exchanges like this allow other actors in the food supply chain to understand the realities of farmers and adapt the way they work with farmers to fit into their reality, making collaboration with short food supply chains easier and more successful.
You can find out more about the different producers within the project by checking out our beacon living library. Plus, stay tuned for the next newsletter to find out more about our producers, their projects, and how these can be supported and replicated.