Short commercialisation channels. Building a local agro-alimentary system

Short commercialisation channels. Building a local agro-alimentary system

By Africa Jiménez Ruiz. Asociación sociocultural y agroecológica Tianguis.

In the last few decades several urban and rural initiatives have demonstrated a growing concern regarding the consequences of the production and consumption of food. Whether it is from an individualist ecological consumer perspective, focused largely on health, or from an environmental, political and social perspective, the population is giving rise to various answers to the global agroconsumer system (GACS). Thus, cooperatives, associations, consumer and producer networks arise, with the intention of generating another type of relationship based on trust and direct or close contact between producer and consumer, rather than being based on the philosophy of maximising profits which capitalist markets and GACS act on.


La Casa Azul, Córdoba

Industrialization applied to agriculture and the subsequent commodification of agroconsumer products has meant, among other things, a greater distance between producers and consumers. The end result has been, in terms of benefits, an increase in power for big distributors, who are now controlling 80% of the foods consumed in northern nations. This means that from their position of power these companies can negotiate sales conditions and push prices down, submitting producers to pressure that is beyond their control. In order to be able to sell to these big distributors it is necessary to provide great volumes of products and at much reduced prices. It’s for this reason that small businesses and projects find themselves excluded from these commercial avenues, leaving small routes and direct sales as one of the main avenues through which they distribute their products.

At the same time, the population is asking themselves what sort of foods are entering their homes. Whether is it due to health or due to critical attitudes focused towards various aspects of the agroconsumer system, in the last few years different alternatives and answers have arisen: on a personal level, based on credibility and motivation to change consumer habits (growing your own food, buying baskets, shopping at ecological consumer associations or cooperatives, etc); on a socio-cultural level, based on trustworthy, socially cooperative networks who seek autonomy (producer and consumer networks, self-managed producer and consumer cooperatives, bartering, etc); on an eco-structural level, based on the pursuit of short commercial routes and endogenous technologies (reduction of external imports, consumer self-sufficiency, etc); and on a political level, based on the social and political public institutions (agroecological extension, conscientious consumer programs, technical support, etc).

A result of the food alienation which has been developing in wealthy societies, largely in urban contexts, where control over consumption is practically nil, is that a new, local agroconsumer system develops. Between new proposals is the search for short trade routes, in response to the power exercised by big distributor chains over food. This search is not just an answer to the need to shorten distances in economic terms, but also in response to that in most experiences a close relationship between production and consumption, between field and city, is fundamental. The way in which these products reach our table is a cornerstone of criticism directed at GACS.

In Spain, the majority of foods are bought in hypermarkets and supermarkets (75.5%), which implies that a large percentage of the profits remains in the distributors hands, at the same time as very little reaches the producers. Local shops, local agroecological markets, social markets, consumer groups and associations, ecological and herbalist shops, direct purchases at farms, urban vegetable lots, are the most common examples as to where to purchase foods directly from producers, cutting out the middle man.

Short commercial routes are suggested as an important distribution method for ecological products in Spain. Seeing as we have already observed that the majority of conventional product purchases take place in large commercial centres, when we talk about ecological products on short commercial channels are the protagonists. Although it is true that large commercial centres are increasingly adopting an ecological label, it is important to bear in mind that these products mostly come from large multinational companies. We cannot forget that local consumption saves energy, reduces CO2 emissions and supports local economies.


La Casa Azul, Córdoba

These alternative local systems are arising, therefore, due to demands from producers as well as from consumers. From the production side it is necessary to offer a stable outlet for production and a reliable income. From the consumer side it is necessary to gain stability and security of supply, a diversity of products and prices adjusted for incomes. Therefore, certain discrepancies can be found between the needs of both parties, regarding prices, quantities and diversity of products. The alternatives must be directed towards these needs, there must be direct negotiation in terms of equalizing the debate between both parties and there must be compromise and mutual support from both sides.

In this context, it is important and necessary that public institutions prioritize this type of consumption, not just through education-awareness-formalization, but also through promoting public facility consumption (school canteens, hospitals, homes, etc) and supporting local production and business. Concepts such as ecological agriculture, seasonal product consumption, locally produced foods, etc, are already a daily reality in many Spanish homes. We hope that this becomes a trend and that we can continue to work on building a local agro-alimentary system.



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