1 December 2013 – global supermarkets, local food markets and local food knowledge

Traditional food markets still play a critical role in providing everyday fresh and affordable food in many emerging economies. In a recent article in a UK newspaper, Ian Jack mourns the arrival of global supermarkets in India, and the threat they pose to its local markets. He suggests that the extinction of markets and street peddlers is slowly coming, ‘not immediately and not everywhere, but probably inexorably in the middle-class districts of the big Indian cities’. For him, the impact of modernized global food systems will not result in a more equal food system in India, but will impose one where the middle-classes flock to the supermarket, and local traders are marginalized as they continue to feed the poor.

In a similar vein, a recent article by Lauren Shields at IDDRI Sciences Po – ‘Feeding Hanoi’s urbanisation: What policies to guide the transformation of the urban food system?’ (http://www.iddri.org/Iddri/Intervenants-auteurs/Shields) – asks the question ‘how do we build a modern urban food system without irreversibly losing the ‘working’ characteristics of the traditional system such as mutual trust between its stakeholders, from producers to consumers?’ It seems to me that the ability to integrate these practical knowledge systems that are associated with traditional food provisioning with the development of urban food systems is crucial. As Lauren Shields concludes, ‘modernizing food systems do not automatically result in improved outcomes for individuals’- traditional food markets and their systems are far more than rational economic efficiency.

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