Sunday, December 28, 2014

Food hubs-Another "farm to fork" linking system

It is a well known fact that farmers world over generally get a fraction of the price consumers pay to the retailers in the market place. The intermediaries who are involved in this food delivery chain can be any number depending on the country and the policies that govern agriculture and produce marketing. In a country like India there may be any where from 3-6 intermediaries through whose hands the produce travels before reaching the consumer's table. Obviously more the number of middle men involved, lower will be the realization for the farmer. Also worrisome is the quality degradation and safety compromise inherent in multiple handling and long distance transportation of agricultural produce.The ever increasing desire of the consumers to access to foods which are fresh, produced with minimum chemical inputs like pesticides are pushing them to the organic food sector which is growing at a frenetic pace during the last few years. Farmers markets which are springing up every where in the United States are also a "product" of this insatiatiable desire for fresh foods with minimum carbon foot print. An alternate option to farmers market is now emerging in the US called Food Hubs which are again becoming a part of local initiatives by non-profit organizations, cooperatives and entrepreneurial community which see an opportunity to serve the society by providing a delivery conduit from the farm to the families directly. Here is further information on this emerging development which can be replicated in many countries with ease. 

"Move over farmers' markets. More than 300 food hubs around the country are also providing small farms another outlet to sell locally raised food to consumers. There's no one model for a food hub — it depends on the market, the location and what it is grown in that area. Some collect food from farms and dole it out to customers in weekly deliveries. Other hubs help consumers, restaurants, colleges and institutions to source food online. But producers, consumers and experts all say food hubs have an important thing in common: it's an efficient way to get locally raised food to those clamoring for it. "We've seen in the last few years in particular as local and region food systems have grown and become not only larger but kind of more sophisticated that there has been a need for sort of the logistics of moving food from the field to the consumers. And food hubs kind of fill that space," said Doug O'Brien, deputy undersecretary for rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency spent about $25 million from 2009-2013 supporting food hubs. The number of food hubs has doubled over the last six years, and many are in urban areas, with the Northeast leading the way. Some operate as nonprofits, others are for-profit or producer-consumer cooperatives. Some are modeled after CSAs, or community supported agriculture, where consumers pay up front for food throughout the season."

Imagine the convenience for the families when safe and fresh produce is delivered to their door front with assurance that can be trusted. The role of the US government in supporting such food hubs in financially supporting them is praise worthy. Though such a concept was known before, putting in practice requires lot of organizational ability and dedication. In a country like India this may not be possible at all because of the short sighted policy of the government in insulating the growers from the consumers through the APMC Act which forces the poor farmer to sell their produce in only the government market yards controlled by licensed auctioneers! Incessant land fragmentation and suffocating government restraints are ruining the farmers who are being driven to commit suicide in large numbers due to unbearable debt burden. What is tragic is that no government whether right, left or center has the determination to bring about reforms that will help the farmers of the country!


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