Thursday, December 23, 2010


The Locavores movement which started in a small way in the US is becoming more and more popular day by day making the large retailers take note of its impact on their bottom line. This passion for fresh produce grown locally is based on the increasing awareness of consumers about the so called "harmful" effects of industrialized agriculture on their health. It is known that large scale production of foods in commercial farms involve use of fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs which could leave traces of chemicals on the produce with some possibility of harm to the health of the consumers in the long run. Besides the large carbon print left behind by the process of cooling, cold storage and low temperature transport and the chilled vending shelves in the super markets, seems to have persuaded the consumers to patronize locally grown produce offered through farmers' markets in their locality. Now that the local food lure has caught on in a big way, large retailers are jumping into the band wagon to corner a slice of the pie for their survival.

"The demand for fresh, local food is no myth. According to the most recent National Farmers Market Survey, released in 2005, farmers market sales topped $1 billion, and for more than 25 percent of vendors, all farm income came from farmers markets. The number of farmers markets across the U.S. has grown from 1,755 in 1994 to 6,132 in 2010, according to the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. Between 2009 and 2010 alone there was a 16 percent increase. Missouri is part of this trend with about 180 farmers markets around the state — up from 53 in 1997, according to records from the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Walmart's intention to double in-state food products in five years, announced in mid-October, shows the trend has not gone unnoticed . It's difficult to put a dollar amount on Walmart's plan; the company does not break out its produce sales. But the company's 2010 annual report said groceries accounted for 51 percent of total sales in the U.S. or $258 billion — about $20 billion more than Missouri's 2009 gross state product".

In India there is a "desi" version of farmers' market in many places popularly known as rural "shandies", assembled on some scheduled days in a week but these shandies serve mainly the rural folks living in a radius of 25-30 km. Besides fresh produce, they also sell other house hold goods at relatively low prices, having no over head costs. These markets are held in open dusty places with practically no facility for either the farmers or the buyers, being neglected for decades by the state governments. It is a pity that western countries are discovering the virtues of local farmers' markets now which were in existence, albeit in a crude form in India for decades. The difference is that Indians do it in the most disorderly way while American markets are well organized and managed. Farmers' markets also exist in many towns and cities across the country where local civic bodies provide selling facilities to the growers in centralized places and lately some of these markets have been upgraded with cold storage facilities for keeping the produce for a day or two at nominal costs. These city markets are fed by farmers from surrounding villages who do not have much of an insight into the correct way fresh produce has to be handled and invariably by the time they reach the market there is significant quality deterioration. Probably each state will have to focus on modernizing these markets as well as training the growers regarding scientific practices of handling the fresh produce to deliver them to the consumer in prime condition.


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