Food security through shorter value chains

Posted on September 30, 2011  /  1 Comments

We immersed ourselves in agriculture for 3-4 hours yesterday in conversation with visiting colleagues from the University of Alberta, working up a proposal on food security. When asked for a definition of food security, they responded in terms of shorter distances food was transported.

I was reminded of the archetypal “bad” food value chain that got much play when there was fire in one of the Swiss road tunnels: potatoes grown in Poland, transported by truck (despite Europe’s vaunted and subsidized railways) to Italy for processing, and then hauled back as French Fries across those same tunnels back to Germany and Poland. It seems common sensical that food that puts on less miles would be better.

So what are such value chains in Sri Lanka? Vegetables from Welimada are transported to Dambulla and then back to the hill country in other trucks. Is value added? Yes. Vegetables with buyers are higher value than vegetables destined for the elephants.

But we could look at the food processing industry which actually changes the lime or chillies. We’ve always been interested in food processing because this is critical (and underused) tool in dampening the wild gyrations of agricultural prices at the Dambulla market. When prices for fresh lime (for example) slips below a threshold at Dambulla, Dialog Tradenet SMSes can inform the agriprocessors who can buy the produce, and give the farmer/seller something more than the nothing he would get under present circumstances.

Shorter value chains would require more marketplaces from which data is collected. More physical market places reducing the distance food travels, but all integrated into one virtual marketplace (more or less) by Dialog Tradenet. With price collection expanding from three locations to seven, this is not blue sky. Concern about the quality of data being supplied by lightly supervised and compensated price collectors can be bracketed for now.

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