- Tropical: the product comes from the South.
- Nutritious and healthy: protein-rich products with a high nutritional value (vitamins, minerals, etc.).
- Ecologically sustainable and climate-proof: production with low CO2 emission, crop rotation, respect for and reinforcing biodiversity, countering/minimalising negative impact of climate change (agro-ecology), transport by boat, future-oriented, etc.
- Economically viable: there is a clear business case and competitive prices for producer, retailer and consumer.
- Relevant to the development of the local market in the South: the products are consumed locally and are of interest to the local diet or have major potential on the local market.
- The product gives social, economic and/or ecological added value for the local producer.
- Added value to the Belgian consumer: anticipates the demand (allergies, health, trends, protein transition, etc.).
- Complements products from the North: the choice to produce the product in the South is responsible (ecological, economic and/or social).
- Ecological, economic and/or social innovation: not only the end product is innovative, but the chain symbolises innovation that can take place in different stages of the chain (production, postharvest, transport, energy consumption, processing, waste management, etc.).
- Visibility: the product chain contains some challenges, questions certain issues, requires innovative solutions and new partnerships. The chain makes a contribution in order to tell a story that is as complete as possible regarding the food of the future.
- “Food produced in the South and transported over great distances is not sustainable because of the large ecological footprint”
“Locally produced food is more sustainable”
These are frequent and understandable remarks. But we would like to put some nuance to these remarks by giving some more background information regarding sustainable chains.
First of all we would like to point out the difficulty in defining a product as local or global in view of the complexity of today’s food system. This is also the case for products that at first glance look simple, as many modern food chains are mixed models that combine both local and global processes. The so-called local or global food chains use both local and global raw materials/services/… ‘resources’. In many cases it is therefore difficult to label product chains as local or global.
E.g.: the North Sea brown shrimp is a local product, but the shrimp are peeled in Morocco … and end up in our supermarkets.
E.g.: local pigs are fed with soya grown in Brazil.
Besides the fact that the line between local and global food chains is often blurred, we also have to ask ourselves if this is the right way to evaluate the sustainability of the food chains.
Erik Mathijs et al (2008, p5) submits the following argument: “ Eating local food suits a sustainable food chain better in order to avoid long distance transportation. But we have to maintain a sense of reality. Literature provides a few examples of “the ecology of scale” in food production, indicating that long distance transportation is not necessarily an ecologically adverse action. In sustainable food systems imported foods are definitely a possibility, but not at any price or at any ecological or human cost.”
Local food is often seen as better for the environment because of less transportation, less food mileage. Edwards-Jones (2010), in his detailed study of the literature on this theme, argues that the CO2 emissions that are produced during transportation of the food are only one element that defines the ecological sustainability of a product. Other elements that need to be taken into account are production factors (CO2 emission of the soil, yield/ha versus input, use of raw materials such as water and soil, transportation and distribution, storage, recycling of packaging, etc.
It is also important to look at the different elements of sustainability. The ecological impact of the product chain is only one element; we cannot get a full image without considering the social and economic sustainability.
The economic sustainability of a product chain is all about profitability and competitiveness, good practices in management, market demands, market-based prices for the people working in it, the needs of the consumer (e.g. taste and quality) as described by Colruyt Group.
A social sustainable product chain does not grow to the detriment of the people working in it. Just look at fair prices for farmers (and other chain actors such as handlers, transporters, etc.), long-term contracts, healthy and safe work conditions, no child labour, etc.
Edwards-Jones, G. (2010). Does eating local food reduce the environmental impact of food production and enhance consumer health?. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 582-591.
Kneafsey, M., Venn, L., Schmutz, U., Balázs, B., Trenchard, L., Eyden-wood, T., . . . Blackett, M. (2013). Short Food Supply Chains and Local Food Systems in the EU . A State of Play of their Socio-Economic Characteristics. European Commission Joint Research Centre .
Tregear, A. (2011). Progressing knowledge in alternative and local food networks: Critical reflections and a research agenda. Journal of Rural Studies (27), 419-430.
- Until now there is no generally accepted definition of “short chain”. We do find the same or similar characteristics returning regularly in the definitions: here is a short list.
In general there is no explicit referral to a geographically defined area that contains the chain. It is often mentioned that in a short chain the number of intermediaries is kept as low as possible.
The definition that is most used is by Marsden et al. (2000), where he uses the expression “short” mainly as a reference to the re-defining of relationships between producers and consumers. In this definition the consumer receives enough information about the origin of the product and the quality. This information enables the consumer to get in touch and make associations with the place and environment where the product was produced. If this information is perceived as valuable by the consumer, this will eventually reflect in a premium price.
We recognise there are three sorts of short chains:
- Face-to-face, where the consumer buys directly from the producer or the processor. Authenticity and trust ensue from the personal interaction. Examples are farmers markets, farm shops, initiatives such as ‘Boeren & Buren’.
- Physical vicinity: here the consumer does not meet the producer, but lives in the same geographical region. The most common examples are initiatives by regional quality labels and food teams.
- Physical distance: in short chains that are far away both in distance and time, the products are sold to consumers far beyond the production region, without any connection to the place of production. They can be sold in the national market, but that can also happen on a global scale.
Examples are Fair Trade products like coffee, mangos, etc., where the chain is transparent, the price paid to the farmer is equitable, it is known from which farmer (or cooperative) the product originates and that the number of intermediaries is kept to a minimum.
The production chains that have been set up in the framework of the project ‘ Voedsel voor de Toekomst’ (Food for the Future) come therefore under the last category.
Marsden, T., Banks, J., & Bristow, G. (2000). Food Supply Chain Approaches: Exploring their Role in Rural Development Terry. Sociologia Ruralis, 424-438.