Mano a Mano: Rural-urban alliances to reshape food markets and improve the quality of diets
"The relationship between producers and consumers has not only changed the way they both relate to food, but also the way we relate to the world around us through food."Liccia Romero, producer and researcher from the Merida Province, Venezuela
Stimulated by the academic environment to reflect critically on their own reality, farmers and consumers facing the challenges of the old production model supported initiatives that sought solutions for the local food system.
Stimulated by consumer demand for more sustainable and healthier foods, and backed by the assurance that their products would be purchased, producers transitioned from intensive production models to agroecological ones.
Affordable and healthy eating
Consumers are provided with more affordable and healthier food amid high speculative inflation.
EXPLORE THIS SOLUTION
Mano a Mano can offer:
- Support to producers to transition towards more sustainable production
- Affordable and health food for urban consumers.
Mano a Mano; UNDP; Small Grant Program of the Global Environmental Facility; Slow Food
2015 – 2021
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In Venezuela, a group of farmers and consumers established an organization that serves as a social platform to facilitate the commercialization of agroecological fruits, greens and vegetables in the province of Merida. It enabled farmers to have access to capacity-building programs, marketing and logistical support for the certification, commercialization and distribution of production. The platform also helps consumers to raise awareness about the importance of responsible and healthier consumption choices.
During the 1970s and 1980s the province of Merida, in the Andean part of Venezuela, was an important area for experimenting with green revolution methodologies because of the area’s food and agricultural production. Over two decades, large investments were made in intensive agriculture that heavily used agrochemicals to make the area a strategic food producer and supplier, deeply changing the environmental and social landscape of the area. As green revolution methods proved to be ineffective in the region and external investments ceased, producers from the area faced not only a substantial reduction in their incomes and access to markets, but also the challenge of maintaining the quality and quantity of production after years of unsustainable exploitation of soil, water and other public goods. At the same time, consumers faced a substantial reduction in the availability (and subsequently, an increase in price) of fruits, greens and vegetables, with corresponding impacts on the food and nutritional security of those living in that area.
Besides its agricultural output, Merida is also known in Venezuela for its educational opportunities, as the province hosts one of the most important academic communities in the country. Stimulated by the academic environment to reflect critically on their own reality, farmers and consumers facing the challenges of the old production model supported initiatives that sought solutions for the local food system.
One of the solutions found by Mano a Mano was to establish a process through which producers and consumers could work together to address problems at both ends of the food value chain. The solution received financial support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the University of the Andes’s Programa de Profesionalización Docente (PPD) and the GEF Small Grants Programme and institutional support from Slow Food.
The process consists of producers and consumers meeting every two weeks in a space easily accessible from both rural and urban areas. During these gatherings, producers and consumers can discuss the challenges they face at different points in the food system and agree on joint actions to address these issues. Participants can seek local, short-term arrangements like prepayment and fair prices, or structural, long-term changes like putting their voices together in the political arena.
On the production side, the process has made available to producers more organizational and technical support for transitioning to an agroecological production model. On the consumption side, the process has increased access to much healthier and nutritious products at fair, jointly determined and fair prices amid high speculative inflation.
-Stimulated by consumer demand for healthier foods and backed by the assurance that their products would be purchased, producers have transitioned from intensive production models to agroecological ones, incorporating both native seeds and local biodiversity.
-With prepayment arrangements, producers have greater access to economic resources to increase the quality of their production.
-Producers and consumers came together to share the costs of capacity-building and technical support efforts for producers to transition to agroecology.
-Logistics costs have been substantially reduced as producers and consumers work together in cleaning, separating and distributing items during their biweekly meetings.
-Losses and waste were also reduced by the process as both producers and consumers were trained to understand the value of products that would normally be discarded in commercial markets
-Consumers had access to much healthier and nutritious products at fair, jointly determined prices amid high speculative inflation.
Lessons Learned/Potential for replication
Firstly, horizontality is a condition for success, even though it could make the process slower and more erratic. Different stakeholders came to the first meetings with preconceived perceptions of each other, their problems and potential solutions. Although those who started the process had an idea of how the platform should operate, they soon realized that horizontality was not only the best way to deal with unequal power relations, but also a condition to increase ownership and sustainability of the process.
Secondly, traditional markets put producers and consumers on opposite sides of a negotiation, and even in solidarity-based markets, sometimes this will lead to conflicting interests. The process has shown that ignoring possible conflicts will only undermine the actors’ trust in each other and the process – hence transparency is key to exposing and dealing with existing and potential conflicts.
Although in recent years the group has started using more social media to increase contact and exchange among platform members, the digital gap is still a major issue in Merida. The COVID-19 pandemic provoked substantial challenges to the organisation of the meetings and has caused partial disruption to local food systems, especially because of the shortage of fuel to bring production from rural areas and distribute it among consumers. The platform members have been working to find alternatives such as an online trade platform and a distribution arrangement based on nodal coping points and bicycles, in alliances with local stores.