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Local food systems through the lens of the food crisis | CEED

Local food systems through the lens of the food crisis

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The food crisis of 2007-2008, affecting over forty countries worldwide, acted as a wake up call. It reminded the international community that – in accordance with the founding principles of food sovereignty- thriving localized food systems are essential in ensuring the food security of local populations in the face of severe food supply shocks.

There exists a consensus that the spike in food prices can be attributed to multiple factors. Nevertheless, the particular set of free trade and other policies imposed throughout history on countries of the global South shares a significant part of the responsibility. These policies gradually destroyed local food production, thereby undermining the ability of states to feed their populations from local agriculture.

The colonial era first set in motion the extraction of primary raw materials, including minerals and cash crops, such as tobacco, cocoa and tea, from colonies in order to fuel European economic activity. Later, with the onset of the debt crisis in the 1980s, both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have conditioned the approval of loans to the introduction of “structural adjustment programs” (SAPs). Among other prescriptions, these policies included the reduction of trade barriers. The resulting inflow of subsidized agricultural produce, often sold at prices below production costs, from the European Union and other industrialized countries have displaced local small farmers from domestic markets in developing countries1. The intensification of exports, usually consisting of one or two commodities, for instance cocoa in Ghana, cotton in Burkina Faso, cut flowers in Kenya and Uganda, constituted yet another ingredient for “development”. In the case of agricultural produce, however, the income generated by exports tends to fall as export volumes increase. At the same time, the lack of investment in the production of local food crops induced dependency on food imports. Such a configuration had devastating effects on low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDC)2, many located in sub-Saharan Africa, which were unable to pay for the rising cost of food imports during the crisis3. In addition, the effects of WTO rules, for instance the destruction of public grain reserves, have only exacerbated the extent of food shortage during the crisis. Under the pretext of combating global warming, but intended to fuel the wasteful economies of the North, the agrofuel craze increased the price of staple foods like maize and manioc and pushed peasant communities off the land in Southern countries4. “Land grab”, the rush to buy up overseas farmland by corporate investors and food-insecure governments, is the latest threat to local food production capacities in countries like Sudan where the World Food Program is attempting to feed 5.6 million refugees5. Ensuring food security, however, goes beyond simply increasing the quantity of food produced locally. As the IAASTD report points out, any investment in agriculture aiming at building resilience at the local level must support the needs of small-scale family farmers who are currently feeding 70% of the world’s population6. This means avoiding dependency on expensive inputs such as inorganic fertilizers, whose price is closely aligned with that of oil, and patented seeds.

The triple crunch – climate chaos, peak oil and the economic crisis

Although the dark prospects of food scarcity are not looming yet over the industrialised world, the triple crunch – climate chaos, dependency on fossil fuels in the light of potential peak oil7 and the economic downturn- are compelling us to rethink how local food systems could be part of the solution to the systemic challenges at our doorstep.

Agriculture is the source of at least 14% of greenhouse gas emissions.8 “Food miles”, referring to the distance food travels from the producer to the consumer, however, are only a part of the problem. According to most researchers, the way food is produced amounts for the bulk of the food system’s greenhouse gas emissions. Somewhere between 50% and 83% of emissions occur before food even leaves the farm gate.9 Factory farming that relies heavily on non-renewable fossil fuels such as diesel or gasoline to operate farm machinery is an important contributor of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, one of the main greenhouse gases (GHG) responsible for global warming. The production of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, which are primarily derived from fossil fuels, is another source of CO2 emissions. Moreover, natural gas-derived synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, which account for 40% of the energy consumed on farms in Europe10, liberate nitrous oxide, the third most significant GHG contributing to climate change. And the practices of the industrial livestock sector are only adding to the list of factors at the root cause of global warming11.

While industrial farming generates greenhouse gases, small-scale family farming can actually help cool the planet.12 First, it consumes 6-10 times less energy13 than the industrialized agricultural system, thus emitting less greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Second, agroecological farming techniques - including no-tilling, mulching, the use of natural compost instead of chemical fertilizers, crop rotation with attention to leaving land fallow – have the potential to sequester carbon in the ground and thereby rebuild organic matter in the soil. These practices help to mitigate the impacts of climate change by strengthening the soil’s capacity to retain nutrients and water. Local farming systems rich in plant and animal biodiversity are also key in ensuring adaptation to changing weather conditions while maintaining productivity. They are also building the resilience of local food systems by providing a buffer to extreme climate events as well as the spread of pests and disease induced by rising temperatures14. In this respect it is worth noting that throughout history, peasant farmers bred 5000 domesticated plant species, but the industrial food chain only uses 3% of them. In the same vein, while farmers donated 1.9 million plant varieties to the world’s gene banks since 1960, industrial plant breeders’ contribution amounts to only about 80 000 plant varieties currently available on the market15.

From an energy perspective, industrialisation constitutes a paradoxical reversal. Before the industrial revolution, farming and forestry were society’s main net producers of energy. Today the food system is a net user of energy in virtually every nation. This is especially the case in industrialised countries, where each calorie of food energy produced and brought to the table represents an average investment of about 7.3 calories of energy inputs16. The convergence of global warming with peak oil will radically transform the entire food system, from farm to fork, through the need to drastically cut down on fossil fuel use. In terms of agricultural practices this shift implies relocalising food production, creating the necessary infrastructure associated and down-scaling farm size. It will also imply practicing low-input (i.e. agro-ecological or organic) farming methods, reintroducing local plant varieties adapted to local soils and microclimates and limiting the production of energy-intensive foods, such as grain-fed livestock. On the consumption side important dietary changes are expected. Peak oil will compel us to eat more local, seasonal and fresh food, while cutting down on meat consumption and highly processed foods.

The lessons of the food crisis suggest that in preparing for future challenges in feeding the world’s growing population, there is a need for policies that will make possible for rural people to remain on the land and for urbanites to grow as much food as possible17. At the same time, the interconnection of the triple crisis is sending a strong signal for a transition towards relocalised low-carbon economies through the creation of green jobs in different sectors of the economy, including ecologically sustainable small-scale family farming and food production18.

Hungary – Local food systems in the spotlight

Concerns about the origin of our food and the malfunctions of our food system have attracted significant media and public attention in Hungary over the past years. Food scares, ranging from the notorious „paprika scandal”19 to counterfeit labels on expired imports and dioxin contaminated guar gum, have made the headlines almost on a yearly basis. Moreover, the unfair pricing practices of large retailers and food processors, pushing prices below production costs, provoked an unprecedented wave of farmers’ protests in 2008. Spectacular mobilisations went as far as dumping cherry in front of the Parliament and blockading apple processing factories. Milk producers, outraged by the falling price of Hungarian milk partly provoked by cheap imports from neighbouring countries, also joined the ranks. At the heart of these scandals lies the globalised nature of our food system, with its non-transparent channels through which food transits and the growing power of supermarkets, adversely affecting both farmers and consumers.

In an attempt to reinsert some local control over the food system, several initiatives saw the light both at the political and local level. In 2008 the Ministry of Agriculture initiated the voluntary adoption of an „Ethical Codex” by large retailers geared to increasing the proportion of Hungarian products in supermarkets from 75% to 80%. The proposal died as the National Agency For Economic Competition (GVH) declared the codex contrary to the laws of fair competition and supermarkets initially showing an interest in committing to it withdrew their signatures. In addition, MAGOSZ, one of the main farmers’ unions, launched the creation of a national network of „social shops”. The initiative’s objective is to ensure market access to small producers by linking farmers with grocery shops and offering affordable local produce to consumers.

Public opinion has also shifted. Several polls20 carried out in 2009 revealed that the local origin of food is among the most important considerations, after quality and price, in the food purchasing habits of the Hungarian population.

Strengthening our local agriculture by keeping our farmers on the land and buying local products may well be essential for ensuring food safety and the survival of economic sectors in a critical state, like the Hungarian dairy sector21, also key to our food sovereignty. However, beyond giving priority to local agriculture, we also need to consider under what circumstances local food is produced and consumed. This is precisely what „alternative agro-food networks” emerging in Hungary and in other countries can shed light on.

Alternative agro-food networks

Alternative agro-food networks (AAFN) are short food supply chains characterized by economic relations, which differ from conventional market relations most importantly by the social cooperation or partnership among producers, among consumers, and between those two groups. Producers enjoy economic independence from the mainstream agro-industrial system as a basis for production methods, which may be more benign in social, economic and/or environmental terms. At the same time, consumers commit to active citizenship valuing food products and production as a political-ethical commitment. They both strive for public goods such as social justice or solidarity between producers-consumers, environmental improvement via alternative production methods, regional development via local economic benefits and attention to strengthening local heritage. Through these complex and fragile extra-economic characteristics AAFNs promote alternative products and production processes, linked to quality, territorial origins and ecological advantages of food. AAFNs can take various forms, including direct marketing (e.g. farmers’ markets, regular box schemes), producer-consumer partnerships (e.g. community-supported agriculture), sustainable public food systems (e.g. farm to school programs), consumers as producers (e.g. community gardens) and agro-eco-tourism.

Alternative Agro-Food Networks as such constitute a relatively new issue in Hungary. The only study examinging this phenomenon has been a European “cooperative research” project engaging civil society organizations and academic researchers from five European countries, including Hungary22. The particular social, economic and cultural context of Hungary, characterised by relatively low purchasing power, limited citizen participation and distrust among farmers blocking cooperation as well as poor marketing skills, represent important challenges that shape the emergence of alternative agro-food networks. Nevertheless, the past years have consituted an interesting period of social experimentation in Hungary with different forms of direct marketing and alternative agro-food systems based on collective organisation.

Farmers’ markets, having survived the state socialist period, still constitute one of the most common forms of AAFNs in Hungary next to direct marketing on the farm itself and local food festivals focusing on traditional, local products facilitated by the expansion of agrotourism in the country. In this respect, examples of interest may be the Plum Trail in North-Eastern Hungary and Wine Routes in different wine producing regions, the Snail Tour associated with the Slow Food Movement as well as the mangalica23 or the Hungarian grey cattle festivals throughout the country. In terms of newly emerging forms of AAFNs, mostly imported from the West and at an experimental stage in Hungary, are community-supported agriculture, boxing schemes and collective buyers’ groups. The concept of consumers as producers is also surfacing, albeit in the form of allotment renting on farms rather than as urban community gardens for the moment. AAFNs involving cooperation between farmers are rare24 for historical and cultural reasons explained previously. Although food provision to collective restauration programmes of public institutions like kindergartens, schools, hospitals constitutes an economically and socially interesting option, policies of public procurement and other factors currently represent a major obstacle to their development25.

Factors influencing the development of AAFNs

Alternative agro-food networks are both influenced by policies and determined by social, political, economic and cultural frameworks, which, depending on each country’s particular context, might hinder or facilitate the emergence and expansion of AAFNs.

Policies

The overall policy environment in Hungary, and generally in Europe, severely constrains AAFNs. The main obstacles include difficulty in accessing funds as well as disproportionate financial and administrative burden compared to conventional agro-food systems. In the particular context of Hungary, to this are added changing and inconsistent sets of regulations. These keep farmers and citizens in a state of uncertainty about their rights, which can adversely affect their motivation to pursue or launch alternative agro-food initiatives.

Common Agricultural Policies (CAP)

The first pillar of the CAP with its direct payments scheme based on cultivation areas and production units benefits large farms using agro-industrial methods rather than small-scale family farms involved in alternative agro-food systems. The only way the first pillar could have indirectly contributed to supporting AAFNs would have been to take advantage of the new possibility offered by the 2003 CAP reform and shift 10% of funds from direct payments (pillar 1) to rural development programs (pillar 2). This modulation would have potentially increased funding for local transformation capacities, markets, training, etc. For the 2007-2013 period, however, none of the new member states chose to apply modulation since their producers’ direct payments levels were already 75% below the old member states’ payment level, even if they were gradually increasing to reach the EU15 level by 2013. In the post-2013 CAP debate, the Hungarian government continues to reject the idea of shifting funds. One argument is that it would make no sense to decrease payments just after they finally reached the old member states’ level. Another is that around 30 thousand Hungarian farmers would be touched negatively by this measure26, since the modulation shifts the funds by putting a cap on the payments receivable by a single farm, thereby negatively affecting the largest producers. Thirdly, rural development requires national co-funding, while direct payments do not.

Despite its potential relevance to AAFNs, the second pillar of CAP has not supported either the development of alternative agro-food networks. The creation of rural employment by improving local processing capacities and product development were among the proclaimed priorities of the Hungarian government’s rural development strategy covering the 2004-06 period. However, the funds attributed to the various programs showed a preference for the modernization of agriculture rather than rural poverty alleviation through support for local food systems and the creation of products with added value. The New Hungary Rural Development Program (NHRDP) for the 2007-2013 period shows the same trend and omits all reference to direct marketing, local transformation capacities or local product development in its priorities. This reflects the government’s position27 maintaining that the economic development of Hungarian rural areas depends of providing more capital to the agricultural sector necessary to make Hungarian producers competitive on the increasingly liberalized world market. Accordingly, rural development funds are concentrated around the first axes (45%) aiming at improving the competitiveness of the agricultural sector and within the axes on the development of physical capital (39.35%). Within the same axes no resources are allocated to improving the quality of agricultural production and products.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture28, the main priorities are to:
Focus on the livestock sector by providing producers with modern technology in order to achieve competitiveness
Prioritize horticulture because of its high added value and increasing role in rural employment, especially with reference to Hungary’s climatic and soil conditions
Cereal production has to be directed to the production of agrofuels, hence the program needs to contribute to building the necessary infrastructure.

In addition, given the requirement of attaining the official European economic viability threshold, only 22% of the 200 000 registered professional farms, representing only 6.8% of the 700 000 registered agricultural units, were eligible to submit an application, let alone actually receiving any funds29. Moreover, stakeholder groups, including farmers’ and civil society organizations, severely critiqued the lack of transparency and genuine public debate during the drafting process of the program.

Hygiene Regulations

Compliance with EU and national hygiene regulations, mostly designed for the agro-industrial sector, is a significant problem for small-farmers particularly in new EU member states. In Hungary the main legal instrument regulating food production, processing and marketing by small-scale family farmers is a decree (14/2006, II.16) adopted in 2006 by the Ministry of Agriculture jointly with the Ministries of Health as well as Social Affairs and Employment. Although the decree was developed rapidly after accession with the aim to facilitate direct marketing by small farmers, it contains several problematic areas, which need to be rectified.

First, the decree poses irrational quantitative and hygienic restrictions on certain product categories. First, the product quantities the decree permits have been largely determined by the presence or absence of lobby groups defending small farmers’ interests in different product chains. Thus, the decree allows the marketing of relatively large quantities of honey and fish as official beekeepers and fishermen’s organisations were involved in the consultation process, while the small quantities of marketable meat are the result of the absence of any small farmers’ representation compounded to the influence of the industrial meat lobbying. In addition, many abattoirs were closed down after EU accession leaving large areas without adequate facilities for small-scale goat, pork, sheep and beef production. Second, the decree places disproportionate burden on small-scale farmers by significantly delimiting their right to market primary produce and processed products to shops, restaurants and public food systems.

Several civil society organisations, including Vedegylet and the Alliance for the Living Tisza, have launched a lobbying campaign in 2009. They demand from the Ministry of Agriculture to modify the decree by taking fully advantage of the derogations on the continued use of traditional methods at any of the stages of production, processing or distribution of food specified by the EC regulation on the hygiene of foodstuffs (852/2004). The organisations emphasize the employment generation potential of a more flexible regulation in the context of economic downturn provoked by the financial crisis in Hungary.
Food processing and direct marketing by small farmers are also influenced by a set of other regulations (for instance decrees on markets and fairs and diverse food hygiene and inspection regulations), which do not fall under the competence of the Ministry of Agriculture. The lack of coordination between these ministries means that laws are rarely updated simultaneously leading to an inconsistent legal framework. Shifting the responsibility of inspection of food production, processing and direct marketing from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Agriculture only adds to the confusion and accessibility of reliable information.

Trade Laws

High levels of value added tax (VAT) and social charges in Hungary, which exceed average costs prevalent in Western Europe, combined to the constant shift of legal frameworks and the lack of transparency of the tax system adversely affects small enterprises. This tends to encourage the development of informal economy particularly in low-income, agricultural regions as joining an official cooperative or farmers’ groups becomes commercially unattractive30.

Primary producers – usually carrying agriculture as a secondary activity in order to complement income – are exempt of paying income tax below an annual revenue of 600 000 HUF (approximately 2 300 EUR). Given the high volumes of agricultural produce traded without any record or invoice, as of 2008 primary producers are required to obtain a tax number, which has to be announced to the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority. Moreover, after each transaction – even the sale of the smallest amount of foodstuffs – they are obliged to provide an invoice.

Referring to the urgent need to increase pubic revenue from taxes with the onset of the economic crisis, in 2009 the Hungarian government erased the yearly tax allowance of 800 000 HUF (approximately 3000 EUR) allocated to small-scale agro-tourism initiatives. Civil society organizations heavily criticized this decision by highlighting the minimal benefits gained compared to its negative consequences on the countryside, including the expansion of the informal economy and unemployment.

Biodiversity

Landraces, local fruit and vegetable varieties represent a valuable natural resource for the development of high quality, traditional local products linked to culinary heritage and cultural traditions. Yet, with the expansion of industrial agriculture and the global agro-food industry, they gradually disappeared from our fields and plates. A related problem is that the formal seed system, developed to serve the needs of industrial agriculture, until recently only recognised varieties that are “uniform” and “stable” across different environments. Local varieties, however, are diverse and changing as they adapt to constantly shifting local environments.

In 2008 and 2009 respectively the European Commission introduced two directives, which make possible the marketing of seeds of local cereal and vegetable varieties threatened by genetic erosions and grown under particular conditions. Member states have to transpose these directives into national legislation, which Hungary already carried out for cereal landraces. The legalisation of local varieties is fundamental, but insufficient in itself. Significant public funds need to be invested in making local varieties a reality both on our farms and in our diet. In this respect, a small step forward in Hungary is the allocation of funding under the agro-environmental programme of rural development funds to support the cultivation of a limited list of rare local varieties. Most local varieties are only available in gene banks and must be regenerated in order to adapt to local conditions. This requires ensuring the access of farmers to seeds stored in public collections. Farmers also need to reappropriate lost knowledge associated to their cultivation, processing and use. Direct marketing initiatives need to be developed and strengthened as local varieties can only thrive in short food supply chains. In the case of local cereal varieties, this entails linking small-farmers, millers and bakers using traditional techniques. Finally, farmers must be included in the decision-making process affecting the conservation and renewal of crop biodiversity. This right is also recognised by the FAO International Treaty on Plant genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).

Other factors31

Besides policies, alternative agro-food networks are determined by various cultural, economic, social and political factors, which can turn into success strategies if they are consciously planned and well implemented. Some of these factors might actually be derived from the “alternative” character of the initiative, making it attractive to producers and consumers searching for options outside the conventional food chain. Other factors, for example the availability of funds or consumers’ purchasing power, might be outside the control of AAFNs.

Providing specialty products through alternative processes

One factor, which can enhance an initiative’s success, is its ability to ensure the alternative dimension of both the products and the conditions under which they are exchanged within the AAFN. A specialty product can appeal to the consumers’ cultural pride and heritage, for instance a rare local plum variety or sausages made of mangalica meat, or express care for the environment. One AAFN, the Alliance for the Living Tisza, developed a special label for local products originating from chemical-free, environmentally sustainable farming methods. Alternative agro-food networks are short food supply chains that can reduce distance geographically (in the case of territorially based, regional initiatives) or socially (by reducing the number of intermediaries). The personal interactions and communication in turn help to create a trust-based relationship and solidarity between farmers and consumers. In the case of one traditional farmers’ market located on the Hunyadi square, in the centre of Budapest, this translates into the possibility for consumers to pre-order and reserve special products available in scarce quantities (for instance, coriander or the first cherry of the season) from their favourite producer. In return, consumers might accept to pay a higher price for the product, which benefits the farmer. In terms of the shopping experience, the market also distinguishes itself from the uniformity of supermarkets by the unique way each stall is organised. In the case of the Hunyadi market the vendor’s skirt or the patterns of her tablecloth matching the iris she sells is qualified by some shoppers as “anti-design”, which cannot be substituted by any 21st century design.

Building on culturally relevant forms of AAFNs

A key strategy for the success of AAFNs is building on culturally relevant forms of direct marketing by revitalising or reinventing cultural traditions. Farmers’ markets, which are deeply rooted in Hungarian culture, are still widespread. However, they are increasingly threatened as farmers are getting pushed out of markets due to rising stall rental fees induced by attempts to “modernize” markets. To this end, Our Treasure- the Market, a citizens’ group created by local inhabitants to save the market on Hunyadi square, are publicising the rare gems found on the market, including local fruit and vegetable varieties or curiosities like okra, and organise special cultural programs to raise awareness around the market’s social, cultural, economic and environmental values.

Ensuring economic viability

Ensuring the economic viability of AAFNs is also essential to their survival and success. Many AAFNs are negatively affected by the heavy workload often carried out as unpaid voluntary work. In this respect, access to well-targeted funding, especially in the start-up phase, is key in consolidating the network’s activities. In Austria, France and UK, the various waves of LEADER funds and other programmes geared to supporting endogenous rural development have been successful in strengthening collective local food initiatives. In Hungary, the LEADER programmes, however, have not yet yielded the expected fruits. Reasons include the program’s relative novelty and the administrative complexity of drafting project proposals. This is compounded by the lack of preparedness of both local agencies implementing the programme and local communities experiencing difficulties in identifying common goals and cooperating32. AAFNs in Hungary have attempted with varying success to access other funds, including new programmes available through the European Social Fund or national social funds for employment generation of marginalised groups. Regarding AAFNs’ economic viability, the diversification of marketing channels can be important. The Alliance for the Living Tisza, for example, combines marketing on traditional markets with home-delivery schemes, cooperation with businesses integrating “Living Tisza” labelled products on their shelves as well as agro-tourism activities. Unless an initiative has the opportunity to build its own processing facility, cooperating with small businesses that can turn cherry and apple into juice has also proved to be necessary for gaining added value to local products and enhancing the economic viability of a local food network.

Creation of new knowledge and empowerment through cooperation

The capacity to pool together stakeholders, both members and resource persons who include visionaries and dreamers, with various skills and knowledge – including traditional, local-lay knowledge and expert, scientific knowledge – are key in ensuring the success of AAFNs. In this respect, the constitution of a citizens’ group - Our Treasure- The Market- to fight for the survival of Hunyadi farmers’ market threatened to disappear due to urban revitalisation projects involving non-transparent real estate investments is crucial. Moreover, its ability to mobilise urban planners, lawyers, guerrilla clowns and other experts helping in negotiations and lawsuits with the local government as well as mobilising public opinion and the media are also exemplary. In the same vein, the Alliance for the Living Tisza integrated the knowledge of local business experts to develop an alternative certification system for farmers as well as jurists who helped to clarify the legal context affecting food processing and direct marketing by small farmers and develop an alternative proposal presented to the Ministry of Agriculture.

In many cases, both in Hungary, but also in other European countries, the network’s advantage is that it can and does play an intermediary role that helps connect farmers with producers if needed or perform different tasks necessary to the AAFN’s existence or functioning. Given the importance of the social learning process and strong commitment to ethical and political concerns within AAFNs, it must be noted that the particular intermediary roles AAFN adopt go beyond the classical notion of intermediaries in the industrial agro-food system. Although AAFNs can facilitate the logistics of marketing, their ultimate aim is to “empower” farmers in the process. The best illustration is the role the Alliance for the Living Tisza played in initiating the creation of a participatory certification label. An important function of the label is to create added value and higher economic benefits for farmers by emphasizing the local origin of products as well as a certain number of other advantages, including chemical-free sustainable farming methods. However, besides fulfilling a few criteria made mandatory for joining the label, farmers have the possibility to choose and personally guarantee other optional benefits, for instance indicating if the product is additive-free or a local variety. The label takes into consideration the needs of Hungarian small farmers as it is flexible, enhances the farmers’ sense of responsibility, it requires minimal administration and it is inexpensive. Beyond the marketing aspects, the Alliance for the Living Tisza also empowers the farmers by carrying out the legal and the lobbying work aiming at easing marketing conditions for small-scale family farmers. In the case of Our Treasure-The Market, some members are actively involved in supporting farmers by organising seeds exchanges and training on permaculture techniques, providing ideas for original plants to be grown or particular ways of processing that may help farmers differentiate their products on the market and get value added.

Going beyond existing rules

Alternative agro-food networks radically question the dominant structures and operating rules of conventional agro-food systems. They develop alternative management, marketing practices, while pushing for shifts in the policy context in a direction that fits their needs. Several success stories researched in Hungary, as well as other European countries, demonstrate how initiatives managed to systematise gaining added value, accomplished to bend the rules of the game of agro-food systems, obtained or expanded forms of exemption or regained autonomy. This also the case as many AAFNs have strong links to social movements or are rooted in environmental activism. Feeling solidarity with farmers affected by the unfair pricing practices of supermarkets, the Alliance for the Living Tisza began organising alternative marketing channels on markets and other venues for cherry and apple producers unable to sell their produce. The spontaneous action transformed into the organisation of regular marketing activities with the development of diversified sales options. Lobbying for the modification of the smallholder decree on food processing and marketing also illustrates the strong determination to change the current legal framework in which small farmers must operate. At the same time, Our Treasure – The Market revitalised local democracy in the neigbourhood by daring to address local authorities as a citizens’ group and revolutionarised urban planning practices by putting local communities’ interests on the map. Thanks to their involvement the farmers’ market still exists today and the local authorities are now planning to maintain and renew the outdoor section reserved for small farmers instead of constructing an underground garage and renting market hall space to supermarkets.

Author: Csilla Kiss, Protect the Future

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