The problems created by industrialised farming and animal husbandry have increased interest in locally produced food. The Finnish rural co-operation group has set up a working group to investigate food production from this point of view. The group realised that only a tiny percentage of all marketed food produce was of local origin.
In an article published by the green newspaper Vihreä lanka (30 March 2001), several experts emphasise that increasing the availability of locally produced food can also help to revitalise many rural areas. There are visions of city inhabitants owning a share in a farm which would be run by someone else. Leena Packalen from the Central Association of Farming and Forestry says that this is an interesting concept.
"What really warms my heart about this idea is the fact that consumers are increasingly interested in food and rural areas. If only we had someone who would be courageous enough to implement these ideas."
The article points out that locally produced food not only revives the local rural economy but also saves transport costs and reduces damage to the environment. Transport, packaging and needless reprocessing will be minimised. The whole production chain utilises sustainable methods. Seasons are taken into account and local food traditions are respected. Often locally produced food is also organic.
Packalen emphasises that these things will not be realised at a snap of the finger. One has to create new production chains and take into account both farmers and consumers' needs. In different parts of Finland, there exist dozens of projects which have created contacts between local producers, shops, supermarkets and large commercial and communal kitchens. Selection of products has been replanned and marketing methods have been refined.
The article notes that official farming policy does not forbid local production but neither does it encourage it. EU subsidies flow to big units. Packalen thinks that the current food crises prove that the policy should encourage more variety in production styles.
"Encouraging local food production should be a European-wide reform. It is possible to consider a national subsidy policy but even in this our hands are tied."
The EU competition rules slow down the increase in local production. Certain trans-border purchases must be open to competition and local producers must not be favoured.
Juha Helenius, Professor of Agroecology at the University of Helsinki, says that a valuable resource such as food should not be treated as any merchandise.
"Food should be a resource available to citizens, not a system in the hands of the market."
Helenius says that in a just world, ecosystems like food production should be organised in a way which gives every nation and community the possibility of taking care of their own ecosystem. Local food production could lead to a new kind of relationship between urban and rural areas, he adds. Helenius also believes that the alienation of city dwellers from the countryside and nature could be alleviated by an awareness of the fact that rural areas are the source of food.
Helenius praises Finnish local food projects for taking a broad view of rural development. The projects also take into account communal and social effects.
Speaking globally, he criticises the World Bank view which believes that food problems will be solved by creating a big enough global food basket. He thinks that hunger is connected more with poverty than population growth.
"If one builds a global food distribution system, it leaves outside people who have no land and no purchasing power."
26 March 2001
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