The COVID-19 lockdown restrictions impeded the traditional channels of selling and buying fresh fruit, vegetables and fish. To survive, many fishermen and farmers around the world turned from exporting, supplying restaurants and selling in-person to e-commerce partnerships with a local focus, with governments (e.g. Canada, Thailand), farming cooperatives, e-commerce platforms and giants such as Alibaba helping to enable the transition. This shift met a fertile ground as customers have been taking a closer look at where their food comes from, and are keen to support small and local producers when possible, joining initiatives such as Community Supported Agriculture in record numbers.

So what?

The emergency onboarding of small farmers and fishermen to online distribution channels has been the single most important factor determining survival of many traditional agents of the food system. While eliminating the need for face-to-face interactions, e-commerce enables businesses to also eliminate the middleman and commissioning agents, helping previously export-oriented farmers to earn even 15-20% more. With social distancing guidelines likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, a looming second wave of the pandemic, and online sales booming, is there a possibility the pandemic-induced shift to e-commerce becomes more permanent? Will incentives, support packages and shorter value chains allow small-scale businesses compete with established players such as Amazon and Walmart also in the long term? Will the uptake in customers buying direct from farmers be enough to offset the decline in restaurant-driven demand? And will Community Supported Agriculture-type initiatives help maintain the community-building function of local food markets?

Signal spotted by: Roberta Iley


Photo by
 Big Dodzy on Unsplash

Related reads:

Growing our Future: Scaling Regenerative Agriculture in the United States 

Discomfort Food: seeing food industry labour clearly 


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