| FOOD CHAIN No. 9 - July 1993 |
LEARNING FROM MISTAKES
It was originally planned that this edition of Food Chain centre around the theme 'learning from mistakes'. The editor sent letters to many fieldworkers requesting articles; none came. From this we assume nobody makes mistakes or that subscribers do not wish to admit to them! This is a pity as it is important to document negative results to allow others to avoid the same errors. This edition of Food Chain, therefore, does not have a central theme but contains a selection of articles describing experiences in projects that, it is hoped, will be of interest to our readers.
LONG TERM QUESTIONS
Food Chain's technical editor, after more than 20 years in development has the uncomfortable feeling that he has been making some grave mistakes by being too close to the detail of current work. While the information being provided by development journals such as Food Chain may, in the immediate sense, be helping to improve the life of resource poor people in developing countries, it appears that a number of central, long term questions are rarely asked. These include:
• what will the economic, manufacturing and social structure look like in the year 2000;
• how will expected changes affect poor people;
• what technical solutions need to be examined to minimize foreseen negative changes
In most western countries dramatic changes have occurred in the food and crop processing areas (and other manufacturing sectors) since the 1950's The emergence of a small number of large food manufacturing plants have all but replaced small producers such as bakeries and breweries. There has been a substantial drop in labour needed in food manufacture A typical modern food factory is highly automated and needs few workers. The regulations governing the production, handling and sale of foods are complex and costly to comply with, making them unaffordable to the small scale food processing sector. There has been a rapid change in the way that foods are sold. Large superstores, with relatively few staff, are now replacing small shops. These superstores increasingly market their own brand products which are produced under license by large food manufacturers. In most cases a large supermarket chain will only buy from a smaller manufacturer if it can supply all the shops the company owns Few small manufacturers can produce such volume. Large companies have the capacity to use very sophisticated advertising techniques. Purchase is now influenced less by the actual quality of the food in the container and more by presentation.
The overall result of these changes has been a dramatic fall in the number of people employed in the production, distribution and retailing of foods. The food processing sector is now controlled by a relatively small number of very large companies and small manufacturers find it very difficult to compete Those that do tend to produce specialized products, with sales volumes too small to interest the big manufacturer.
Similar trends can already be seen in developing countries; the emergence of supermarkets, more food regulations, larger manufacturing plants. In ten years time it is likely that only medium sized enterprises may have the resources and professional skills to compete with the large manufacturers. Yet the target group of many agencies remains the poor, micro enterprise sector. Should it remain so?
It is suggested that those working in development need to start considering what the impact of the technological changes taking place around them are likely to be on poor people and also what, if any, solutions can be found to soften the impact of the modern world
This leader does not pretend to offer solutions but rather open a debate as to the kind of information and technical development that needs to start now in order to prepare for the probable impact of the modern world.
Your views would be appreciated - please do write in.