In our regular column from CEJA – the European Council of Young Farmers – President Alan Jagoe discusses the outcome of a European meeting which focused on how the position of farmers in the food supply chain could be strengthened.
MF: You recently attended the Informal Meeting of Ministers of Agriculture and Fishers in Bratislava, Slovakia. Can you tell us some more about this?.
AJ: I attended the meeting of Ministers from around Europe in mid-September along with the EU Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner, Phil Hogan. The aim was to discuss all aspects that have an impact on the position of farmers in the food supply chain and to see how this position could be strengthened. The paper presented during the meeting posed questions based around the CAP and strengthening the bargaining position of farmers in business relations, transparency and measures at an EU level, as well as how to deal with unfair trading practices. The urgent need for supply chains to work functionally and practically for all is something that as an industry we all want. However, what we need and what is reality are two very different things. As farmers we are producing, safe, quality and traceable food for consumers domestically, at a European level and indeed globally. However as young farmers our position in the supply chain is by far the weakest. Young farmers across the EU are helping to supply a secure and continuous supply of milk, meat, cereals, fruits and vegetables necessary for every single human to survive, but yet our numbers continue to fall. The answer is obvious and it has been for a long time - why would any young person commit themselves to a career and a lifetime of uncertainty and poor prices? Why is it that as farmers we must survive from the scraps off the table?
MF: How can the CAP help?
AJ: CEJA very much supports the concept, the principle and the workings of both producer organisations and cooperatives. Anywhere where farmers can join together, enhancing cooperation and shortening the gaps between producers and consumers is a positive step forward. However, to strengthen these valuable assets to communities, both rural and urban, then policies must be constructive. While the CAP does cater for this, it does not go far enough. The CAP can help by incentivising communication tools (such as social media activities, origin labelling and farm open days) in order to bring the consumer closer to producers. Educating, informing and encouraging consumers to find out where their food comes from and how it is produced, will have an impact on the nutrition, health and wellbeing of current and future generations to come.
MF: How can cooperation in the food supply chain be encouraged?
AJ: To encourage both vertical and horizontal cooperation in the food supply chain we need to have written contracts between stakeholders in order to provide guarantees to both sides. These should be long-term to help us as farmers improve both our planning and especially our security. Market transparency is essential for improving the functioning of the food supply chain and also important for empowering farmers and improving our bargaining power. Member states need to be made to provide more complete and coherent market data in order for the European Commission to compile and analyse this data (similar to the Milk Market Observatory) in order that market operators and farmers in particular, can use this information to plan their current and future business strategy.
MF: How can you ensure fair play?
AJ: The creation of both the Milk and the Meat Market Observatories alongside the Agri Markets Task Force is a positive step forward. We are hopeful that the task force will live up to its expectations in terms of improving the positon of European famers in the food supply chain and to provide input into the current market crisis. Considering that there is no mandatory framework to protect suppliers and producers against unfair trading practices we must ensure that EU regulation safeguards those in the weakest positons in the supply chain. We need to have an independent governing body which has oversight, supervision and investigative powers. This authority needs to be properly resourced to be able to investigate, rule and discipline companies that have and are breaking the rules. Confidentiality for this to work is key, and sanctions must be meaningful.
MF: What else can improve farmers’ position in the supply chain?
AJ: We need to see all the actions that I have mentioned implemented as a matter of urgency. The existing tools that we have are not adequate and do little to help farmers. Future CAP reforms must be oriented towards a fair and functioning supply chain where farmers become price setters and not price takers. I mentioned before about young farmers and the real lack of young people coming into farming. Between the farmer and the consumer there are some 47 million people employed from transport to distribution and to processing, all making a margin, all making a living. That is all we want too. A fairer share of the margin going to primary producers will ensure a sustainable agricultural future for us all.
* If you would like to get in touch with Alan Jagoe, email email@example.com
"Anywhere where farmers can join together, enhancing cooperation and shortening the gaps between producers and consumers is a positive step forward."