Short food supply chains

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Short food supply chain (SFSCs) is a broad range of food production-distribution-consumption configurations, such as farmers' markets, farm shops, collective farmers' shops, community-supported agriculture, solidarity purchase groups. More in general, a food supply chain can be defined as "short" when it is characterized by short distance or few intermediaries between producers and consumers.

Origin of the concept[edit]

SFSCs were originally identified as examples of "resistance" of farmers to modernization of the food system, characterized by the development of supply chains based on long-distance trade.[1] Resistance consists in the fact that, by selling directly to consumers, farmers bypass intermediaries and thus can develop autonomous marketing strategies based on differentiation. These strategies give farmers the possibility of keeping a bigger share of the value added within the farm and within the local economies. Given these characteristics, short food supply chains are increasingly taken into consideration by rural and food policies as a driver of change in the food system and a policy tool for rural development.[2]

The analysis of short food supply chains has fed a broader debate on "alternative food chains",[3] "alternative food networks",[4] and "sustainable food chains".[5]


SFSCs are considered the most appropriate channels for organic and locally specific products and for small farmers. In fact, a closer relation between producers and consumers gives producers the opportunity to develop a richer communication, and to identify market niches. Ilbery and Maye state, “the crucial characteristic of SFSCs is that foods which reach the final consumer have been transmitted through an SC that is 'embedded' with value-laden information concerning the mode of production, provenance, and distinctive quality assets of the product”.[3][6] Likewise, Marsden et al. (2000) state that “a common characteristic, however, is the emphasis upon the type of relationship between the producer and the consumer in these supply chains, and the role of this relationship in constructing value and meaning, rather than solely the type of product itself”.[7]

Dimensions of proximity[edit]

In order to develop a definition of SFSCs, there are a number of candidate criteria that may be used. SFSCs have been conceptualized in terms of Dimensions of Proximity. Kebir and Torre (2012) were perhaps some of the first to propose such a conceptualization, classifying SFSCs based on two dimensions: Geographical Proximity and "Organized" Proximity, the latter of which incorporates social notions of Belonging and Similarity.[8] Other dimensions have been proposed, including [citations needed]:

  • Geographical proximity: physically close, and is measured as a distance between producers and consumers
  • Social proximity: expression is direct (with very few intermediaries) and trustful relations between a producer and consumer who know each other and the product, solidarity between producers and consumers, civic engagement in local food system, (re)connection with local food traditions and identities
  • Economic proximity: market exchanges happen and money circulates within a community or a certain locality (owned and governed locally, transparent, and traceable)


SFSCs are classified by Renting et al.[6] into face-to-face, proximate, extended. Face to face are characterized by physical encounters between producers and consumers (as in the case of farmers' markets). In the proximate short food supply chains producers are not necessarily managing product distribution (as in the case of consumers' cooperatives). In the extended short food supply chains, although geographical distances between producers and consumers may be long, consumers are aware of the identity of the producers and of the products (such as in the case of fair trade and protected denominations of origin).


An action plan developed in 2009 at the Ministry of Agriculture, Agrifood, and Forestry of France was aimed at supporting the development of short food chains. According to the plan, short food chains are defined on the base of the number of actors involved; precisely : SFSC are considered as « commercialisation of agricultural products through direct selling or indirect selling when only one intermediary is involved ». (« Un circuit court est un mode de commercialisation des produits agricoles qui s'exerce soit par la vente directe du producteur au consommateur, soit par la vente indirecte à condition qu'il n'y ait qu'un seul intermédiaire. » .

However, there have been discussions at the senate and at regional levels that short-ness should not be reduced to the number of intermediaries but also geographical distance should be considered (f.i., one can buy vine directly, but what if it travels 1,000 km?). Following the national action plan (or maybe prior to it in some cases), regional SFSC plans have been developed. Regional action plans refer to the definition above, but they also complement or precise it. F.i. Aquitaine region also adds short or reduced geographical distance between producers and consumers (link). The French Law on modernisation of agriculture and fishing, updated in 2010 (n° 2010-874), among its many other intervention actions also states «the development of short food chains and facilitation of geographical proximity between producers and processors. »


Farmers' markets, are physical retail markets featuring foods sold directly by farmers to consumers.

Community-supported agriculture (CSA), network or association of individuals who have pledged to support one or more local farms, with growers and consumers sharing the risks and benefits of food production. The URGENCI network federates initiatives of CSA from all over the world.

Gruppi di acquisto solidale (GAS) Italian networks initiated by consumers that link up to farmers to organize alternative food provision

AMAP (French Associations pour le maintien d'une agriculture paysanne) support peasant and organic agriculture through direct links between farmers and consumers

Research projects[edit]

  • GLAMUR - Global and local food assessment: a multidimensional performance-based approach
  • FOODLINKS - Knowledge brokerage to promote sustainable food consumption and production: linking scientists, policymakers, and civil society organisations
  • SUS-CHAINS - Marketing sustainable agriculture: an analysis of the potential role of new food supply chains in sustainable rural development
  • PUREFOOD - is a Marie Curie Initial Training Network funded by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework PEOPLE program. The objective of PUREFOOD is to train a pool of early-stage researchers in the socio-economic and socio-spatial dynamics of the (peri-)urban and regional foodscape

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Van Der Ploeg, Jan Douwe, Henk Renting, Gianluca Brunori, Karlheinz Knickel, Joe Mannion, Terry Marsden, and others, “Rural Development: From Practices and Policies Towards Theory,” Sociologia Ruralis, 40 (2000), 391–408 <doi:10.1111/1467-9523.00156>
  2. ^ "Conference "Local agriculture and short food supply chains" (Brussels, 20/04/2012) - Agriculture and rural development". Retrieved 2012-10-23.
  3. ^ a b Ilbery, B., and D. Maye. 2005. «Alternative(shorter) food supply chains and specialist livestock products in the Scottish- English borders». Environment and planning A 37 (5): 823–844.
  4. ^ Goodman, D., and M. Goodman. 2008. «Alternative food networks». International encyclopedia of human geography, pp.(Oxford: Elsevier).
  5. ^ Roep, D., and H. Wiskerke. 2006. Nourishing networks: fourteen lessons about creating sustainable food supply chains. Reed Business Information, Wageningen University.
  6. ^ a b Renting H., Marsden T. , Banks J. (2003) Understanding alternative food networks: exploring the role of short food supply chains in rural development. Environment and Planning A 2003, volume 35, pages 393 - 411
  7. ^ Marsden, T., J. Banks, e G. Bristow. 2000. «Food supply chain approaches: exploring their role in rural development». Sociologia ruralis 40 (4): 424–438.
  8. ^ Kebir, L. and Torre A. (2012) Geographical proximity and new short food supply chains. In: Lazzeretti, Luciana (ed.) 2012. Creative Industries and Innovation in Europe: Concepts, Measures and Comparative Case Studies. Routledge.