The pandemic’s border closures have exposed the vulnerability of import-dependent markets, but small local producers are also at risk. But they determine the pace of economic development in their city, region, country.
Let’s get to know how people can support local producers in different countries, in addition to loans and tax incentives. The author of the article is Yekaterina Kolchanova, co-founder of the Partnership and Communications Bureau for Sustainable Development “Now This Way“, the community “Osoka Vysokaya” and the service of reusable tableware “Obratka” (“Return”).
Protection of regional brands
Bordeaux winemakers began to talk about the fact that the character of a product is formed not only by the manufacturer but also by the environment in which it is created in the 18th century. The recognition of the wines produced in this province grew all over the world, and after it – the need for protection against counterfeiting.
This is how the National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO) appeared in France. It aims to establish and protect the appellation of origin of goods (AOG, in French – Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC)). To be protected, manufacturers must prove that the place of origin, local traditions, and manufacturing techniques have given the product its unique qualities.
It all started with wine, but the protection extended to dairy and meat products, vegetables and fruits, poultry, butter, sauces, and more over time. INAO establishes three categories of product quality:
- Protected Designation of Origin. To get such a mark and the ability to use a specific name (for example, Parmesan cheese), the product must be grown, processed and produced exclusively in the specified area.
E.g., Parmesan can only be made in the Emilia-Romagna region (Italy) from the milk of local cows, and churchkhela in Georgia – from local fruits and nuts. Everything else is fake.
- Protected Geographical Indication. This status is assigned to products grown or processed in a specific area.
For example, Scotch whiskey can only be produced in Scotland, although the raw materials for it may be from another country.
- Guarantee of tradition. This category includes products whose place of origin has not been established. Manufacturers are required to comply with manufacturing traditions.
For example, pork sausages are prepared everywhere; but only those sausages prepared from a traditional set of ingredients in a given proportion can be called pork sausages. On the cut, the lard is pink. Everything else is just a sausage.
The list of protected products includes the European Union, but the protection works in other countries. From a legal point of view, such products are objects of intellectual property – their owners are not individuals but the local community.
Brazilian program: from a family farm to a schoolboy’s plate
To tackle hunger and poverty, the Brazilian government rolled up its sleeves and developed a long-term program. It focuses on family farming: more than 4.3 million farms and 12 million people across the country. Dozens of ministries and hundreds of regional departments have been thinking about feeding the country healthy food, lliftingfarmers out of poverty, and returning young people to the countryside.
It took more than one year of work. Still, thanks to the joint efforts, farmers’ incomes from 2003 to 2011 increased by 64%, the income of the agricultural sector – by 51%, and the countryside is no longer synonymous with hopeless poverty.
At first, small loans began to be issued to farmers: it is easier to start the season with them. Together with the loan, they offered insurance against unfavorable weather conditions and a guaranteed price program (the cost of the crop is set at the beginning of the season, and in the event of a price decrease, the loan rate is also reduced).
Farmers who grow strategic products that support biodiversity have been singled out as a special category. They only need to be a local distributor to receive a minimum price guarantee. The guarantee itself is provided by grants from the National Distribution Company.
In addition to financial programs, educational programs worked: increasing competence and familiarity with progressive agricultural methods allowed farmers to improve the quality and quantity of the crop. In some regions, there were additional programs: a water assistance program in drylands, an electrification program, a program for the provision of agricultural equipment, seeds and even land.
We also paid attention to working with consumers: they stimulated demand and raised the prestige of farm products.
The distribution system played a key role in this initiative: local farmers’ markets, government procurement, incentives for corporations to purchase raw materials from family farms and the National School Feeding Program. Thanks to the latter, local farmers began to supply food to schools directly from the garden. Now students eat organic, fresh food (and for many of them, this is the only meal of the day), and thousands of families got the job done.
The concept of locavore (from English “local” and Latin “vorare” – “to eat”) was a response to the growing globalization of the economy and the decline in the quality of food. Buying food from farmers is an obvious way out. And the shorter their path to the plate, the higher is their nutritional value, and the better is the taste.
The idea was picked up by the restaurant community. In the United States, Britain, France, Germany, restaurants began to open focused on local products (and not necessarily on the national cuisine), the search for new-well-forgotten-old ingredients of local origin, and the restoration of the traditions of cooking.
The trend for local products has generated a demand for other local products: interior items, jewelry, accessories, fashion. The concept of local products has also expanded: this category now includes goods produced within the country.
Be that as it may, loyalty brings dividends to everyone: fresh, tasty products and authentic design – for the consumer, income from what they love – for producers, economic development – for the region.
Community support for agriculture
Community Support Agriculture, CSA is a European local grower support system in which consumers and farmers come together to share costs, risks, and yields. The first European community to support farmers appeared in Geneva in 1978, and by 2015 there were 6,000 of them in Europe. Following the Europeans, this practice was introduced by more than 22 countries around the world.
It works as follows: at the beginning of the year, the community (urban or rural – wherever) pays off for a small loan to farmers, which they then return with the harvest. It’s kind of a farming cart subscription.
As a result, consumers receive fresh produce, and farmers get the opportunity to plan the season based on actual demand. The model eliminates retail margins, food losses, useless labor, and, most importantly, the product does not lose quality while traveling to the sale point.
Direct contact between the manufacturer and the customers is beneficial to everyone. The consumer receives freshness, taste, nutrients and does not receive harmful microelements that appear in products due to chemical fertilizers required in industrial production. All this, as a rule, cannot be offered by retail, which needs a presentation from the product, the ability to be stored for a long time and maximum marginality.
Moreover, this model increases the responsibility of producers. Instead of marketing, they focus on the product itself and aim to give customers the best possible quality. The consumer, in turn, can see what efforts the manufacturer is making – and this makes him treat the products more carefully.
The course towards the development of tourism motivates the regions to take a closer look at what distinguishes them from their neighbors. Branding of cities and areas is helpful for local producers.
Tourism development programs, in most cases, rely on local cuisine and products. Food routes are a good way for people to immerse in the local atmosphere. The best of them include familiarity with all stages of production “from bed to plate”. For example, in the tourist program of Catalonia, there are routes dedicated to olives, oils, cheeses, wines and sausages.
The development of industries that emphasize the uniqueness of the area is becoming especially important for countries that have made tourism the basis of their economies. For example, for New Zealand, attracting tourists by the beauty of nature and good service. About 10% of the country’s GNP comes from the tourism industry, which employs up to 10% of the population.
In New Zealand, manufacturers can qualify for Qualmark certification for products and services that meet three dimensions:
- high quality,
- made in New Zealand,
- made in accordance with the principles of sustainable development.
Qualmark provides training and consultancy on change implementation. Business Highlights are awarded annually to reward their efforts and inspire others to follow Qualmark’s principles. The program focuses not only on companies in the hospitality industry but also on local producers.
Endangered Products Support Program
Slow Food Presidium is one of the projects of the Slow Food Foundation.
Slow Food is a social movement dedicated to providing everyone with “honest,”, affordable and quality food. It originated in Italy in 1986, and today the foundation’s divisions operate in 160 countries.
The Presidium project was established to preserve products and entire ecosystems, endemics, harvesting (or catching), processing and production traditions that are on the verge of extinction. The Presidium method introduces sustainable development principles into local production until globalization has combed them one size fits all.
The project focuses not only on grown products but also on those that are gathered in the wild: plants, game, seafood, fruits, berries, honey.
Here is an example of a cheese produced by farmers in the Valtellina Valley (Italy).
It is made traditionally, by hand. Its key ingredients: not milk – but the atmosphere of the place, lush grass, free animals and people passing on from generation to generation… no, not technology – but rather the rituals of production. There cannot be a lot of such cheese. Because of this, this cheese and the people who make it were in jeopardy: the average cost of industrial cheese on the market is $8, and the cost of Waltelline cheese, so that farmers can continue their work, must be at least $15.
It is difficult to exist in such conditions. But the implementation of a sustainable Presidium development program has allowed farmers to unite, pull up the local community, engage consumers and ultimately maintain their production and decent wages.
Together with local producers, a protocol of action is developed for each case, describing all cycle stages: growing, harvesting, processing, cooking, working with the community. For each product, training programs and incentives for careful consumption are made.
The project stores over 500 products worldwide and involves 13,000 manufacturers.
Local and COVID-19
The pandemic has highlighted the interdependence of the well-being of the community and small local entrepreneurs. Federal and city authorities of different countries began to develop packages of measures to support small businesses.
For example, Newberg and Camas, two small towns in the United States, in addition to providing loans and grants, have launched a program that stimulates demand for goods and services from local businesses.
Any resident could return $ 15 out of $ 25 spent on products of small companies (up to 50 employees) registered and working in these cities. The townspeople only needed to send an application and a photo of the checks – the due amount was deducted from their utility bills. Everyone could collect checks for a discount of up to $75, which is a lot.
And in Canada, the Ontario authorities have developed the Digital Main Street project, the task of which is to transfer small businesses online during the pandemic. The program provided entrepreneurs with free technical support, knowledge, and targeted grants of $ 2,500 to build online services.
Perhaps the most common occurrence during a pandemic is online maps of locally produced outlets that link local businesses and catering establishments. They were made everywhere by governments, businesses, activists (here’s the example).
Despite its critical role in the economy, small business has long gone unnoticed. Thousands of small companies are registered every day, each of which has a dream and a desire to do something a little better. But not everyone manages to resist – and then new companies come to their place.
But because of the coronavirus, most of these enterprises were under attack. Simultaneously. And their struggle for survival will continue after the pandemic.
Comprehensive support of regional and city authorities can undoubtedly be effective. However, without the participation of consumers, even it will not work.
But for us, consumers, it is as easy as shelling pears to support small local entrepreneurs: when choosing something, choose a local one.
You may read more about another significant concept called degrowth here. It proposes to re-localize a considerable amount of production based on bioregionalism, shortening supply chains and increasing their resilience through transparency and decentralization.