Article by Judith Hitchman, Urgenci

The Social Economy, the Future of Europe was a big conference held in Strasbourg, 5th and 6th May. The underlying theme was to gather input from various actors for the upcoming European Green Deal. A group of some ten members of RIPESS Europe were involved in organizing and participating in various workshops. This included a workshop organized by Urgenci.

Given that some of the most important aspects that social movements wanted but failed to have included in the Farm to Fork policy document have been weakened and even totally removed in spite of the excellent collective work of the Food Policy Coalition F2F working group, it seemed timely to include a workshop on how Social and Solidarity Economy can contribute to the Green Deal, and thus try to use this as an entry to advocate for our collective tasks as social movements.

The workshop took the form of round tables. The first part was based on the grassroots members of the food system: Community Supported Agriculture, producer-consumer cooperative shops, and OpenFood Network. Isa Alvarez, Urgenci’s president, spoke about the issue of the right and access to affordable healthy food for all rather than relegating the poor to eating junk food. Community Supported Agriculture groups have invented many different ways of ensuring that this is possible: from solidarity shares covered by other member’s collective financial contributions, to the possibility often used in Germany of people paying what they can afford, as long as the total contribution meets the producers’ needs, working shares where consumers can work a given number of hours on the farm to partially pay for their share and also shares for vulnerable populations, subsidized by Local Authorities. These are key issues for Social and Solidarity Economy, as they clearly prioritize the human right to food over profit, while ensuring decent incomes for producers.

Isa’s intervention was followed by Monika Onyszkiewicz, whose Foundation is a member of both Urgenci and RIPESS Europe. She spoke about the importance of producer-consumer co-operative shops in Poland and elsewhere. Such coops are part of Social and Solidarity Economy, and ensure decent income for the producers, as well as fair prices for consumers. Her intervention was complemented by Giulia Tarsitano from Euro-coop, who was also one of the leading Farm-to-Fork Food Policy Coalition advocates. The final member of this panel was Petros from OpenFoodNetwork in Greece. He presented the concept of OFN and Open Source Software that supports the creation of contacts and relationships between local producers and consumers. It now exists in 27 countries.

This first panel demonstrated that there are many different options for consumers to buy their food outside the industrial food system of ultra-processed foods and large chains of supermarkets. And although Geneviève Savigny of ECVC spoke about policy in the second roundtable, she is a producer who sells her chickens and eggs at the local market near her home in France. What we need is a local and territorial system that is diverse and based on social, environmental and economic as well as food justice, and this first panel showed how this can be achieved. It is also very important to note that these territorial markets have proven throughout the pandemic how resilient they can be. And the fact that this food is produced using agroecological techniques also means no dependency on chemical inputs. As the cost of these inputs has risen astronomically in recent times due to the war in Ukraine and fossil fuel price increases, the fact that the food in question uses minimal fossil fuel to produce also contributes to keeping the price more stable and affordable.

Following this first panel, we heard from a group of 3 different activist-researchers. Giovanni Esposito, from the FASS EU project spoke about the enabling and blocking factors that they have identified in establishing sustainable food systems in Europe. Social and Solidarity in its various forms is a clear enabler. Sophie Michel from the Strasbourg University and Lena Bloemertz from the University of Basel spoke about the comparative aspects and relevance of Food Policy Councils, Plans Alimentaires Territoriaux and Ernährungsrat as structures that bring actors together at territorial level to build sustainable food systems. One salient point was added by Patricia Andriot, the Local Authorities’ network for Solidarity Economy Vice-president who is in charge of the rural development brief: some actors from the industrial food system tried to infiltrate her local food policy council. She promptly kicked them out, as it is essential to ensure to voice of the rightsholders is not over-ridden by financial stakeholders from the industrial food and agriculture sector! Patricia is also a small-scale farmer.

Patricia also spoke about the importance of Local government in ensuring that public tenders are open to groups of local agroecological and organic small-scale food producers, and enabling children, the elderly and ill to benefit from truly healthy local food, cooked in local kitchens rather than industrially prepared meals.

Finally Geneviève Savigny, who has in the past served for several years as a member of the European Economic and Social Committee and who is herself a farmer, highlighted the resilience and importance of building the bridge between food sovereignty and Social and Solidarity Economy. Because unless and until we manage to change the neo-liberal system where food is commodified and shareholders are prioritized over rightsholders, the Green Deal will remain a tool for green-washing, used for Corporate Social Responsibility, and not for producing sustainable healthy food close to where people live.

Other points of importance that were mentioned are that all these issues of industrial agriculture are similar to those faced by artisanal fishers. And the concept of direct sales, Community Supported Fisheries and including local fish from small fishers in public procurement are equally relevant.

The question of introducing a food safety net, which is included in the Urgenci Covid-19 report policy recommendations was also brought up.

The roundtable clearly showed how grassroots social movements, together with researchers providing evidence-based and timely support can work with Local and other levels of government to build bottom-up and highly relevant policy for the Green Deal.

As well as this workshop, RIPESS and Urgenci largely contributed to the 15-page advocacy document on the various key aspects included in the Transitions Village (energy, food and agriculture, finance and housing…). This document will be made available by ESS France in the coming days.

To view the full workshop on Urgenci YouTube TV: