BioFach: Stalls and farmers
It takes some effort to detach yourself from the senses and ask: what is the role of farmers in all this? BioFach is, after all, an organic fair, and it is mostly the farm that makes the product ´organic´. Three groups of stalls could be distinguished.
The first group consists of small businesses with large landholdings. These businesses, often specialised in a single crop, have, instead of expanding horizontally, sought to secure their existence by taking control over all parts of the chain. The farms are worked by wage labourers who operate under a manager. Both a Brazilian firm that sells ‘mate’ tea and a Bolivian stall that sells the sugary drink ‘panela’, produce on their own farm (500 and 750ha) and process and market the product themselves.
The second group consists of farmer-run cooperatives. These were founded by and are under the direct control of farmers. Some were helped by NGOs. The objective of these cooperatives, which often sell a large variety of foods, is to enable family farmers to access high value export markets and capture the added value in processing and marketing. Examples are the Peruvian stall Machu Pichu Foods, the Mozambican stall IKURU, and the Rwandan stall Coopac.
The final, and by far the largest group, consists of companies specialised in retailing, processing or other intermediary functions. Businesses range from large multinationals to smaller companies and their main concern is the conquest or creation of new markets. Which farmers are selected is generally a matter of convenience and the farmers behind these stalls can therefore be expected to be a very diverse group. A small minority of these businesses helped farmers with the certification procedure and/or provided them with technical advice to facilitate the transition to organic farming, when organic farmers were lacking. Most of these businesses however had no special connection with their farmer base.
In conclusion, farmers were represented at some of the stalls at BioFach, with some inspirational examples. However, for the vast majority of stalls, especially those belonging to the last group, farmers were absent and voiceless. I have greatly enjoyed this year’s BioFach. Still, I feel that it would be nice if in next year’s version some of these farmers could be present, so that BioFach not only becomes a place for business, but also a place for learning.
By: Leonardo van den Berg