Concrete examples on how food-related SMEs, retail, policy makers and other organisations can take actions to support the Farm to Fork strategy

Early this year, the European Commission adopted the new Farm to Fork Strategy with the goal of achieving a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system. But, how can food-related SMEs, retail, policy makers and other organisations convert the strategy into practice?

By: Laila Dam (Food & Bio Cluster Denmark)

The great impact which food and food production has on the climate calls for an increased focus on sustainability. Sustainability is at the heart of the European project REFRAME and is an integrated part of the project as it focuses on short supply chains and regional production as well the potential for sustainable, healthy food alternatives from the region. In the following, concrete examples of initiatives supported by REFRAME will be presented with the purpose of providing you with inspiration for how to take actions to support the Farm to Fork strategy.

Addressing the challenge of sustainable food systems
The Farm to Fork Strategy addresses the challenges of sustainable food systems and recognises the complicated links between healthy people, healthy societies and a healthy planet. One of those challenges is that the primary producers lag behind in terms of income. 

REFRAME’s approach to this challenge is to establish and re-establish food systems and develop solutions that can shorten the supply chain and thereby ensure a more sustainable livelihood for primary producers and food related SMEs. An example of this is an online sales & distribution solution combining web-shop, marketing and distribution. The online platform called smagdanmark.com offers a direct link between producers and consumers and thereby the producers avoid handing of a large portion of the profit to the retailers.

Entering the market can also be a challenge for the primary producers and the SMEs as they are not able to deliver large quantities of their products to institutional kitchens or food processing companies. One of REFRAMEs solutions to this challenge has been to organise a B2B Taste Market and Local Food Auctions which connect food producers and potential buyers from retail and restaurants, who demand smaller quantities.

Increased availability of healthy and sustainable food options and reducing long-haul transportation
The Farm to Fork strategy encourages the food industry and retail sector to show the way by increasing the availability and affordability of healthy, sustainable food options to reduce the overall environmental footprint of the food system. Short supply chains mean less transport and thereby a reduced environmental footprint. In addition, food that has traveled over short distances and short time tend to be more fresh, less processed and more healthy as the food does not need to be treated with different additives to have a long shelf life. REFRAME is working on shortening the supply chains and increasing the availability of local foods by cooperating with supermarket chains as well as regional suppliers. As a result, more local food products have become available in the supermarkets. A part of the task of increasing the availability of local foods is helping the supermarkets finding suitable producers and organising farm visits to create an increased understanding and interest among the supermarket personnel for the local producers (read more).

Increasing the availability of local products should not stand alone. REFRAME has therefore been involved in several marketing initiatives with the purpose increasing the visibility of them and making it easier for the consumers to spot local products. This has resulted in the development of regional and local labels such as Dutch Cuisine and 100% West-Flemish. Furthermore, a programmeme has been launched to strengthen SMEs’ market communication and increase the visibility and attractiveness of their products on the shelf in the grocery stores. 

Preserving biodiversity through better animal welfare
According to the Farm to Fork strategy we should strive for better animal welfare as it improves animal health and food quality, which then reduces the need for medication and can help preserve biodiversity. In relation to this, organic farming should also be further promoted, not only because it helps to preserve biodiversity but also because the consumers demand organic products and value the fact that the animals have been treated well. In line with these values REFRAME has been organising cow release events which bring the consumers closer to the farmer and enlightens consumers on how grasslands and ruminants contribute to sustainable food production and an increased biodiversity. Apart from communicating positive values, the events are effective in terms of creating dialogue between the farmers and the consumers and contribute to building trust.

Sustainable food procurement
Cities, regions and public authorities play an important role in sourcing sustainable food for schools, hospitals and public institutions. Due to this, the Commission will determine the best way of setting minimum mandatory criteria for sustainable food procurement. In line with the Farm to Fork strategy, REFRAME aims to stimulate buyers of institutional kitchens and caterers to buy local as influencing public buyers will have a major effect and big spin off in local communities. One critical question in connection with this is how procurement procedures can be adapted to handle local food and local food businesses. REFRAME has different suggestions for how to approach the challenge, including dividing the procurement into smaller parts to make it more feasible for small producers to deliver and creating a partnership and formulating requirements about product production and delivery (for example animal welfare and traceability).  

Access to skilled labour 
To ensure that the food chain has access to sufficient and suitably skilled labour the Commission will update its Skills Agenda. The partners in REFRAME are cooperating with several educational institutions with the aim of supporting food related SMEs and other stakeholders to develop their skills in order to realize the potential of food production for the region. An example of this is the cooperation with the educational institution Terra, which offers courses in the primary agricultural sector, such as livestock farming and arable farming. As there was no training that gave attention to the role of nutrition in relation to social issues such as health, food chains and origin of food they decided to start a new educational programme, which could meet these requirements. 

It is not only the students, who need an adapted educational programme which fits to the worlds’ changing requirements and demands, the SMEs also need to develop their skills and learn how to tackle different challenges. For this purpose REFRAME has initiated several networks for different segments of local food production. Here colleagues within the same segment can discuss current challenges and opportunities and learn from each other. By arranging visits to different places, they can also learn new techniques, different kind of production processes or business models.

Dissemination of best practices
As part of the Farm to Fork strategy, the goal is to provide guidance to retailers, food processors and food service providers on best practices on sustainability. To ensure that these actors as well as, cities, regions, public authorities and other organisationscan benefit from the experiences and knowledge collected in the project, REFRAME has created an Online Resource Centre where interested parties can find best practices descriptions on how to handle different types of challenges related to short food supply chains.