“If I am a peasant baker and I produce my own wheat, the prices remain constant”

The Gazette : Short circuits are often described as a virtuous, but rather marginal practice. What about?

Gilles Marshal: In terms of turnover, food consumption Going through short circuits represent about 10% of that of households. On the producer side, nearly a quarter of farms have adopted this practice and the figure is increasing: in 2010, they were one in five, according to the agricultural census. But these figures cover very diverse situations: many market gardeners sell their entire production on the markets and Going through the Amap (Association for the maintenance of peasant agriculture).

It is rare among breeders. The situation also differs greatly according to the regions, depending on whether they are north or south of a line that goes from Strasbourg to Bordeaux. This determines the possibility or not of diversified agricultural production, the secret of short circuits. In the South, they have always been present and have remained so. In the North, since the end of the 1950s, the modernization of agriculture has led to monoculture, which is not conducive to their maintenance, and they have weakened. But the system is not new: it was predominant before 1945 and after being greatly reduced, it was reinvented from the beginning of the 2000s.

The craze for short circuits during the peaks of the pandemic, a flash in the pan?

The media too quickly generalized from the situation of certain producers who saw their turnover revealed after the end of the confinements. The RMT conducted a survey of 800 stakeholders in the sector: it showed that short circuits did not suffer a general decline from spring 2021 compared to the level of 2019. More of them saw their sales remain stables or increase than decrease. On this last situation, there is no single explanation. Some are global: the power of collective catering, a drop in purchasing power, changing food choices… Local conditions can also explain difficulties. This is for example the case of a producer’s point of sale in my town: during the crisis, a second similar store opened and the number of places at the market increased. Some producers, sorry for not having been able to meet demand during the confinements, which was so strong, anticipated that growth would continue at the same pace, which was not the case. They invested or hired, valuing their charges. But beyond the figures, there is a disappointment: they feel the ingratitude of consumers who abandoned them once the crisis was over.

To what extent do public policies impact the development of short circuits?

During the pandemic, mayors made certain decisions, such as making a room available for the Amap during confinement, or reserving places in the markets for local producers… We rediscovered the power of these local elected officials : political decisions have been able to assess the landscape of the supply of short circuits. More broadly, it is likely that the territorial food projects, instituted in 2014, held back the rise of short circuits during the crisis. They must have known local actors better.

Currently, projects of this type are multiplying. This trend stems from an awareness of food issues, but it is also linked to the recovery plan, which provides budgets for communities. But once those funds run out, we risk a comeback shock. Indeed, the establishment of short circuits requires investment, in particular to organize logistics or set up local product processing platforms. For example, in Belle-Ile-en-Mer (Morbihan), a dairy island, milk is currently processed on the mainland. We are working on a food resilience project which involves the construction of a dairy factory on the island, which means investing.

What is the impact of the tensions produced by the war in Ukraine on short circuits?

In the current context of inflation, general anxiety and war in Ukraine, short circuits are rather spared. Regarding price increases in particular, when I am a baker and have to buy wheat, my situation is not at all the same as if I am a farmer and baker and I produce my own wheat: the prices then remain constant. In addition, there is a correlation between short circuits and virtuous ecological practices. This induces a minimal use of inputs and energy and therefore more controlled production costs.

But our time is characterized by instability. The short term should not hide the long term. Thus, the Covid crisis was only a “crisis” from the point of view of food production; it has not reached production capacity. On the other hand, the situation is very different with regard to the climate change: a succession of crises is inevitable. Even in France, they are already perceptible, as demonstrated, for example, by the consequences of the drought in Ardèche. These developments lead to a growing need to relocate agriculture.

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