How does the short chain approach work in France?

How do you bring farmers and citizens closer together? In France, there is a strong focus on short chains, not only because that would be good for the environment, but also for the earning capacity of the farmer.

Despite the fact that direct sales save costs in the chain compared to sales through supermarkets and other distribution channels, a local approach also requires extra organizational capacity. In this article you can read some examples of how French farmers approach this.

Fresh and local
The French currently buy about 85% of their food from the supermarket, while France has a diverse landscape of farmers who engage in direct sales.

The problem is that they are not always easy to find for a consumer. Yet research shows that 87% would like to have direct contact with farmers.

And if one has to choose between good national food supply by French farmers, or heavily exporting agriculture, 8 out of 10 French people prefer food sovereignty over agricultural exports.

Therefore, on January 12, 2021, the French Ministry of Agriculture launched a new platform called ‘Frais et Local’ (meaning ‘fresh and local’).

On an interactive map, consumers and restaurants can immediately see who is selling fresh food in their area.

In this way visibility is given to farmers who sell their products locally. And it facilitates consumers in their search for local products.

In addition, the French government has recently pledged 80 million euros extra for projets alimentaires territoriaux (PAT), or short-chain projects (you can read more about this here).

Advantages
Short chains have several advantages. An important reason is the better price farmers can get for their products when they take matters into their own hands.

In the case of resale via, for example, a supermarket, the profit usually does not end up with the farmer but with the seller.

By doing it themselves, the farmer can keep more margin for himself. This also contributes to preserving local economies and employment.

The environment also benefits, because less transport of products over long distances is required. Instead of mangoes from India, one can opt for apples from Normandy! This also means that fruit can be picked more ripe, because the distance to the consumer is shorter.

In addition, it reduces food waste for the producer. With direct sales, the farmer does not have to measure her products against the standards imposed by the industry, so that ‘imperfect’ products can also be sold.

Finally, short chains strengthen the bond between farmer and citizen. There is always the same range in the supermarket, but there is much more to discover at the farmer.

By selling seasonal and regional products, the consumer gets to know the richness of the region.

Concrete examples
French farmers are taking concrete steps to create a short supply chain. Citizens are also doing their best to support this sustainable transition. You can read below how this actually works.

The Dutch Embassy in Paris conducted interviews with French people working on short chains:

  • AMAP: a short chain in the heart of Paris
  • French farmer Johan sells 40% more thanks to a short chain approach

AMAP: a short chain in the heart of Paris
What is sustainable, local and cozy? An AMAP! This is a local association of citizens who commit themselves to a farmer.

The Dutch Embassy in Paris spoke to Joanna, who lives in the chic 16th arrondissement of Paris, who recently set up an AMAP there. She explains how that works.

Starting with, what is an AMAP? The abbreviation stands for ‘Association pour le maintain d’une agriculture paysanne’, i.e. an association for the preservation of peasant agriculture.

It is a group of consumers, often people from the same neighbourhood, who unite to buy food from a local farmer. AMAPs can be found throughout France.

The group draws up a contract with the farmer for a specific period, in which the farmer regularly (for example, weekly) supplies a certain amount of products. What is in the basket that week depends on the production.

The financing model is interesting for the farmer, explains Joanna, because the AMAP pays for the harvest in advance.

As a result, the farmer is sure of his income. Members do bear some risk. For example, if there were a storm, the AMAP might not get any vegetables. Luckily Joanna hasn’t seen it that bad yet.

Joanna said there was no chard this season because it had been eaten by insects. And then? “The farmer has been able to replace the chard with some other vegetables, but we don’t always know what will be in the delivery … Fortunately, the members see it more as a surprise than an annoyance!”

The AMAP also brings many benefits to its members. It provides the group with local, seasonal and sustainably sourced products that they otherwise would not have been able to find without leaving the city. Also it is

  • social: because neighbors meet and work together to share supplies;
  • pedagogical: because they get to know the farmer’s trade better;
  • and charitable: because Joanna’s AMAP also supplies fruit and vegetables to a social housing group in the area, for example.

Farmers are also generally enthusiastic about this form of work, because it gives them more financial independence.

There is relatively little work for the farmer himself in terms of distribution, because the AMAP takes the entire delivery and divides it among its members.

For example, Joanna’s AMAP uses the neighborhood center ‘ Les Cinq Toits ‘, which used to be a barracks, as a local distribution point. The members voluntarily participate in the distribution of the harvest.

The most difficult point is making the connection between city and countryside, citizen and farmer. Fortunately, Joanna could count on help from the AMAP in the neighborhood to set up her AMAP.

They introduced her to a group of peasants near Fontainebleau , just outside Paris. Citizens who want to know whether there is already an AMAP in the area can easily find it these days.

On the map of the French network of AMAPs (see link below this article) you can see that the whole of France is dotted with these short chains.

The national association of AMAPs, to which a local AMAP can become a member, ensures extra brand awareness and further development of short chains. For this, the national association receives financial support from the French government.

Regional and local authorities contribute the most (73%), but a small part of the funding also comes from the EU, namely from the LEADER program (more information here).

Farmer Johan sells 40% more thanks to short chain approach
In the southern town of Urt, close to the Spanish border, farmer Johan Colet changed course in 2014. The pig farm ‘La Ferme Les Acacias’ was a small family business that barely survived.

Together with his father, he changed their business model to take advantage of short chains. “We wanted more independence,” says Johan.

Now they produce and process their pork themselves and sell it directly to the consumer. That turned out to be a success, especially during the corona crisis.

“We no longer wanted to work with intermediaries, but rather control the entire production chain ourselves, from caring for the pigs to processing into meat products, in order to add value to our trade directly for the consumer,” explains Johan.

An important investment he had to make was not only in equipment, but he also invested in his knowledge.

In addition to keeping and breeding pigs, he trained to learn how to make farm charcuterie in the traditional way, especially with vegetable powders that are naturally rich in nitrates to replace nitrite salts.

He sees that local consumers want to eat more consciously, want to know what is in their food and choose healthier options.

He also honed his business skills. To reach his sales market, he joined the network ‘Bienvenue à la ferme’ (welcome to the farm). This is a network of more than 8000 farmers, united by the French Chambre d’agriculture.

In this way he promotes his products in the region, because through the network he can participate in various events such as farmers’ markets.

He also created his own website and is a member of the ‘Frais et local’ platform. “Make sure that you are easy to find for consumers online” is his tip to other farmers.

The corona crisis did not throw a spanner in the works, on the contrary, says Johan: “Covid-19 has accelerated things”.

The short-chain model turned out to be very resilient and popular with consumers. The popularity of local products is increasing and farmers can work independently on their brand awareness through new platforms and networks.

What did this effort yield Johan? He now sells his products all over France, from local shops and restaurants to school canteens in the area. That led to the farm increasing its sales by 40% in 2020!

In 2018, 600 pigs, of the 1,300 bred there, were processed. The rest was resold. But thanks to the success of his independent production and sales chain, Johan now processes everything himself. Not completely alone, because he has now been able to employ 6 people.

The fact that short chains can go hand in hand with sustainability is also apparent from the fact that Johans farm obtained the certificate for ‘Haute Valeur Environnementale’ (HVE) in 2021 .

Farmers who are committed to the environment and biodiversity and who minimize their impact on air, water, soil and climate are eligible for this certification. HVE is an alternative to organic.

While organic focuses on a wide range of issues, from ecology to animal welfare, HVE focuses on the environmental impact of agriculture. Read more about HVE here .

In the future, Johan would like to stick to the short chain model. He enjoys processing meat products himself, so he strives to ensure that nothing of his production is wasted.

The direct sales on markets and via online platforms are also going so well that he has the opportunity to expand his production step by step. And to ensure that this expansion will be even more sustainable, Johan is also implementing energy-saving solutions in his production process.

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