Local Food is Growing, but is Farmer Interest Wilting? An Empirical Investigation into the Factors that Motivate Farmer Involvement in Local Selling Channels.

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för geovetenskaper

Abstract: Local food systems (LFS) connect producers and consumers in a geographically restricted food supply chain. Local food advocates argue that limiting the spatial scope of food systems can help to address the sustainability challenges present in the global food system. LFS are argued to eliminate intermediaries, enable clear product provenance, encourage community interactions, and involve few food miles. LFS are growing in Sweden, where the government launched a National Food Strategy in 2016, which among other aims promotes the proliferation of local food. This study aims to understand why several farmers from Uppland, central Sweden engage in local selling and whether concerns about sustainability influence the choice of selling channels among them. Using on-farm, semi-structured interviews with the farmers, this research explores three research questions concerning: (1) farmer motives for engaging in local selling channels, (2) factors constraining farmer involvement in LFS, and (3) farmer perceptions on the future of local selling channels. The overall purpose of this research is to provide a critical perspective on local selling as a sustainable food system solution. The study reveals a wide range of motives, including economic advantages from responding to consumer demand and cutting out middlemen, price premiums, more customer interactions, job satisfaction, and proximity to markets. Various economic and personal constraints limit the farmers’ use of local selling channels. Such constraints include seasonality of produce, performing time-consuming middlemen tasks, limited access to essential infrastructure, low transport load utilisation, and individual reasons for not wanting to up-scale local production. The results indicate that better access to on-farm or nearby infrastructure, improved small-scale efficiency, increasing food prices for consumers, changing consumer preferences, more diverse farm products, and better congruency between government objectives and import policies could all help to support LFS in the future. This research exposes a number of underlying contradictions and tensions associated with local food in the literature and among the interviewed farmers. The study finds that sustainability concerns are not a critical motive for the farmers’ involvement in local selling. Some of the farmers even question the sustainability of such channels and challenge the idea that LFS are inherently more sustainable than food systems on other scales. Furthermore, almost all the farmers are involved in both local and global food systems. The farmers do not find it conflicting to be part of both food systems, and are in fact consciously using both systems to their economic advantage. Thus the clear distinction between local and global food systems made in the LFS literature is not reflected in the practical experiences of the farmers involved in this study. 

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