We launched straight into business on day one with Kartini's presentation based on GRAIN's recent 'Food Sovereignty for Sale' report. (If you haven't read this yet its well worth your time) After identifying the challenges of supermarket expansion as an important issue in Asia, GRAIN has been engaging with a range of stakeholders across the food distribution chain including small scale farmers, fresh-market traders, hawkers and workers. This workshop was intended to tackle the issues raised by corporate take-over of the whole food system.
The rise of supermarkets in Asia poses a direct threat to the livelihood of people. More than 3000 fresh food markets in Asia were shut down between 2007 and 2011, with the overall number declining from 13, 450 to 9, 950. In 1989 China had no supermarkets. 25 years later there are 10 000s.
A common riposte to this situation is, "Why don't the farmers just sell to the supermarkets?!" For small scale producers it is almost impossible to fit the procurement requirements set by supermarkets. Supermarkets create their own procurement chain through direct contracts with Big Ag companies that undercut local production. Supermarkets also require constant big volumes at the lowest possible price and this often sees supermarkets importing product rather than sourcing locally.
The scale and speed of this transformation in the food system in Asia is astounding. The Asian market is being pursued aggressively and things are changing quickly. The next speakers on day one gave us some insight into how these changes are occurring in their own countries.
Dharmendra Kumar from the FDI Watch discussed how his organisation has been challenging the rise in foreign direct investment in the Indian retail sector. FDI Watch fought a long battle against Walmart and finally lost in 2011. Dharmendra shared some alarming statistics about the rate of closures of smaller retailers once a Walmart opens in the same area.
Kingkorn Narintarakul from Biothai spoke about the rise of convenience stores in Thailand and how their prevalence is altering consumer habits. RTE (Ready-to-Eat) meals first appeared in 2005 and they now sell about 5 million per month! Convenience stores can supply what street sellers supply at a cheaper price and with a 'cleaner' appearance. Kay also noted the decline of home cooking in Thai homes.
Reina Villaluna from The People's Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) in the Phillipines gave an overview of how corporate agriculture and market expansion are impacting on rural development. She pointed out how both horizontal and vertical integration are leading to a loss of biodiversity and less consumer choice.
Pathut Indroyono from the Sekolah Pasar (The School of the People's Market) shared the importance of the traditional market in Indonesia as the central point for millions of local farmers, fisherman and craftsmen to distribute their wares. Pathut highlighted the value of the traditional market as the centre for entrepreneurship for the middle lower class. We also heard from the Indonesian Market Trader's Union (IKAPPI), the Association of Small Business Women Entrepreneurs (ASPPUK) and the Yogyakarta Labour Alliance who shared insights on the situation in Indonesia.
And all this we heard within the first half of the first day! Overwhelmed?! Well, yes! We felt rather small and timid in that room full of people filled with such courage and conviction. The afternoon session saw us break out into workshop groups and you can read about the discussion more here.
Day two featured two more workshops that focused more on problem solving and mitigation strategies (to be shared with you another day!). We also had time during breaks and meals to talk more informally with our Asian counterparts. It was these conversations that provided the best opportunity for us to gain some deeper understanding of the issues at hand while also giving us a chance to express ourselves better in a more relaxed environment.
We arrived in Indonesia with some awareness of the problems farmers are facing but had no idea of the magnitude of issues like land grabbing, farmer suicides, the pushing of “food safety standards” and the insidious rise of the modern market at the expense of the traditional market. Hearing personal testimonies about the ways the modern food distribution chain is disrupting long cultural traditions is disturbing.
We found it difficult not to slip into complete despair over the state of these countries’ individual struggles and our shared collective global reality. After the second day of workshops a young woman from Yogyakarta approached Joel and I and after hesitating for a moment she asked us who we were and why exactly we were here when Australia appeared to be perfectly fine.
Good question, I thought. We explained that we’d started Future Feeders because we were worried about food security and the fact that farmers’ numbers are declining in our country with no apparent interest from young people. We explained that access to land in Australia can be challenging without large amounts of capital. We talked about the lack of engagement with our food system and how a renewed interest in connecting with food has emerged only recently. We talked about the lack of tradition around markets and the difficulties of setting up resilient alternatives to the major supermarkets. “I’m so sorry!” she said.
Perspective is a wonderful thing and something we gained in bucket-loads over those few days!
On the morning before our flight we piled into Pathut's car and drove to the local wet market at 5.00 am. There's nothing like the sights, sounds and smells of a food market at dawn to remind you of the significance of food. A reverence for beautiful produce is something easily shared across cultural boundaries. It was the perfect summation for our trip.
On the forty hour return trip home we had plenty of time to consider how we might be better advocates for our new friends as well as ourselves. We feel honoured to have been given the opportunity to gain such an insight into the struggles, losses and victories of our neighbours in their quest for an ethical food system. We feel a deep sense of responsibility to share what we have learnt and use it to inform the development of a genuinely fair food system for all.
This workshop enabled us to explore the range of causes and implications of supermarket expansion on communities and develop an understanding into the varying issues that are prominent across the countries represented.
~ Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, India, Australia
“Food Sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”
~ La Via Campesina
Supermarket expansion has already had an enormous impact on small-scale farmers, traders and consumers. Corporations and their supermarkets look to expand aggressively into new markets and are targeting a growing Asian population and its rapid urbanisation.
Globalisation has resulted in a number of damaging economic structural adjustments including Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and trade and investment liberalization (Free Trade Agreements).
Increasingly powerful corporations now direct a modern food distribution system that leaves a void in the connection between food producers and consumers.
With access to global finance and the power to influence financial (de)regulation these operations easily dominate the smaller traditional marketplaces and their vendors.
We discussed how these effects reach far and deep into community networks and are disastrous because the people that are affected are already vulnerable and have no safety nets.
A lack of alliance and cohesion among social movements against this expansion results in ineffective opposition and provides little hope of a bright future for traditional workers.
Markets are deeply embedded in the Asian way of life and represent a key feature in their culture. They represent an essential element of Asian lifestyle and their ability to access fresh produce and goods. They also form an important part of the social fabric for communities.
Moves towards cash cropping and the homogenisation of food products through the commercialisation of food systems is a result of the expansion of supermarket and convenience stores. This has resulted in a reduction in traditional knowledge and diversity surrounding food preparation techniques, traditional foods, produce varieties and traditional seeds.
Particular impacts on women / Women’s Rights
Women are particularly vulnerable given that they represent a large component of the labour force involved in food production, distribution and trading.
With shifts in agricultural production methods, they are often exposed to unsafe practices and high levels of chemical sprays.
Brainwashing (the corporate media agenda)
Branding by commercial retailers that offer ‘the modern lifestyle’ encourages communities away from their traditional and sustainable way of life.
Advertising of convenience food products and their availability promotes changes in consumption habits.
Negative promotion / branding of markets as dirty and unhygienic ensures little opposition from community to the introduction of commercial food outlets.
Changes in consumption behaviour and convenience shopping results in compulsive shopping habits and an increasing culture of spending and consumption: with raising personal debt.
Promotion and availability of cheap junk foods leads to poor health.
Resulting in rapidly increasing rates of diabetes in the developing world.
Cheep convenience products have higher levels of starch/sugars/salt/preservatives and have replaced the cheapest food types for the poorest people.
Studies tabled indicate rapid rates of Diabetes now affecting the poorest people in the world correlate to supermarket expansion.
Increasingly the determination of food safety has become regulated by corporations.
Negative promotion of natural foods as unhygienic / promotion of commercially produced foods as safe – even though contaminants are generally found to be higher.
Studies tabled indicate that market produce contains less external and system pesticide residues than supermarket produce.
Growing individualism and loss of spirit of collectivism
People are alienated from the food they produce and consume
Erosion of freedom in our choices
Privatisation of vibrant and safe public space
Increasing dependence on corporations for food.
Privatisation of Public Space
Original market places on community land are being developed under commercial contract. This leaves traders often with no interim place to sell goods.
The cost of the development is passed on to market stall holders who may not be able to afford the new additional fees.
Evidence tabled suggests that government agencies are forcing eviction by starting ‘accidental’ fires in marketplaces. Some methods include firebombs and other extreme methods such as live rats dipped in kerosene are set alight in the marketplace and let loose.
Employment / Labor
Unemployment and magnetisation
Collapse of rural communities
Increasing exploitation of labour
Intensification of land grabs
Imbalance of power supports corporations over small vendors/farmers
Concentration of wealth in the hands of a few through centralised food system and away from the greater collective of farmers.
Big business has the power and money to lobby government for changes in legislation to further their cause. They can also afford to run their operations at a loss in order to out-compete local traders.
Agricultural pollution through increased chemical use.
Destruction of natural resources in order to increase land available for commercial production.
Monoculture cropping destroys agricultural ecology of small farm systems.
Pollution through increased packaging etc
If you read our latest newsletter you'd know that we're off to Indonesia this week. Yogyakarta to be precise.
(If you're wondering how to pronounce that you should click here.)
Joel & Anais have been invited(!) as representatives of the Family Farmers United Network to participate in a three-day workshop on the "Challenges of Supermarket Expansion in Asia" being held by GRAIN. This is an amazing opportunity for us to learn from our Asian counterparts about their struggles and set-backs. We are very excited to be able to share this experience with you and other farmers in whatever way we can on our return.
GRAIN is a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems.
The goals of the workshop are
• To provide information and training on the relation between the expansion of modern retail and issues such as food sovereignty, free trade and foreign investment, labour rights.
• To create regional linkages between different groups and networks with different concerns related to modern retail expansion
• To Develop action strategies and highlighting information gaps.
Participants will be attending from across Asia representing national and regional farmers organisations, regional research networks, small scale traders' organisations, labour groups and NGOs.
We set off tomorrow leaving trusty Dane in charge as site manager for the week at FFHQ. You'll be hearing plenty more from us about our adventures and if you have any thoughts on the issue we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to learn more about the issue of supermarkets and how they are undermining food sovereignty look no further than this just published report by GRAIN: Food Sovereignty for Sale. GRAIN's Asian coordinatior Kartini Simon has been researching the impacts of supermarket expansion across Asia for the past six months and will be facilitating the upcoming workshop.
In an attempt to keep you better informed we're going to try and post a weekly update of all our on and off farm activity. As we sat down to put together our newsletter we realised we simply had TOO MUCH to tell you!
We’ve weathered the freak August deluge and things are starting to bloom down at Future Feeders HQ. We’re planting, rat-proofing, hoeing, trellising, composting, weeding and even harvesting from our humble but blossoming market garden.
While we love being busy it’s pretty easy to be distracted in the midst of so many opportunities popping up, not to mention the butterflies flying past… We’re certainly recognising the importance of straightening out our priorities. We’ve even bought ourselves a whiteboard. Obviously, this means business.
Last Sunday as we soaked up the sun weeding our mint patch a lovely Colombian woman wandered by. We had a friendly chat before she went on her way… only to return five minutes later and ask if she could join in. She spent about half an hour alongside us shovelling compost onto our welcoming mint bed. It’s moments like these that capture the beauty of small scale urban farming. So simple and so rewarding - turning strangers into friends through shared experience.
Sunday sessions are our open invitation to you to come a join us at FFHQ and get a feel for what this is all about.
If you haven't yet subscribed to our newsletter you've still got time: Click here to subscribe. It'll be arriving in your inbox later this week.
Stage 2 of our worm farm experiment.
AFRICAN NIGHT CRAWLERS (Eudrillus Eugeniae)
African Night Crawlers lay eggs at about the same rate as the Reds but take 2 weeks to hatch.
They take 2 months to mature and start to reproduce. They are also about 3 times longer and thicker than the Red Wrigglers and only take up to 6 to 8 weeks to reach 150mm to 200mm long.
Africans live for about 2 years.
They are the worm of choice for home composters who love fishing. They can eat up to 3 times more organic material than Red Wrigglers
We got ours from : www.briansworms.com
INDIAN BLUES/BLUEYS (Perionyx Excavatus)
Also known as Spenceralia, an Australian native, this worm species is the fastest breeding worm in general composting use (1 worm will produce 18 worms per week under ideal conditions). This worm also eats faster than any other worm we have come across. If you want to convert organic waste into worm compost in as short a time as possible, then you can't beat this worm. On the downside this worm prefers warmer climates and is likely to crawl from its bedding if conditions are not right for it. The Indians can grow up to 150mm long.
We got ours from : ww.kookaburrawormfarms.com.au
image : www.goodlifepermaculture.com.au
Worm farming is great way to reduce your waste and turn your food scraps into an awesome soil improver and plant fertilizer. Fun and fascinating!
For information on worm farming, read our previous blog entry :
If your going to start your own worm farm here is a handy list.
· Fruit Waste - Non Citrus (Apples, grapes, bananas, plums, peaches, pumpkin)
· Vegetable Waste (carrots, lettuce, beans, peas, limited amounts of potatoes, leaf vegetables)
· Egg shells - In moderation and best when crushed up a bit.
· Coffee Grounds (Filters too) - An excellent worm food, but again in moderation
· Tree leaves - Yes in moderation, stick to common species, avoid exotic tree leaves
· Cardboard - Yes, shredded cardboard doubles as food and bedding.
· Garden Waste - Bean stalks, pea vines, beet tops,
· Starchy- Yes in moderations (Pasta, potatoes, rice, grains)
· Aged animal manure - Yes, it's best to stick with horse manure in the beginning.
Do Not Feed:
· Citrus fruit
· Meat products
· Dairy waste
· Cooking oil or grease
· Human waste
· Pet waste
Future Feeders Team