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Agribusiness News July 2024 – Sector Focus: Local Food Supply Chains

1 July 2024

To promote sustainable food production and consumption while boosting the Scottish economy, the Scottish Government has been championing local food and short supply chains in its policies, like in the Sustainable and Regenerative Farming, National Good Food Nation Plan, Local Food for Everyone strategy report, and Scotland Food & Drink’s Industry Strategy.

The concepts of ‘local’ and ‘short supply chains’ are often conflated, and while there is often overlap, they are not inherently the same. While ‘local’ typically refers to the distance from market, ‘short supply chains’ emphasize minimizing intermediaries. Organizations like Nourish Scotland advocate for the term ‘short supply chains’ because local food can still involve lengthy supply routes, and short supply chains can include products sourced from afar. Additionally, the environmental impact of food depends significantly on production and processing methods. Shopping locally is frequently promoted as sustainable, yet this is nuanced; supporting local businesses and the rural economy is beneficial but must be coupled with regulations and science to ensure optimal soil use and environmental health. Moreover, not all crops are suitable for the Scottish climate, and locally manufactured products may not always use locally sourced ingredients.

What are local food supply chains?

In the Local food for everyone consultation report (2021) Scottish Government recognise local food as having some of each of the following features:

  • It is produced locally (in your town, region, or elsewhere in Scotland);
  • It has short supply chains (there are fewer steps between the primary producer of the food and the person who eats the food);
  • It is sustainably produced (in a way that is better for the natural environment than industrial scale production);
  • It is produced in a way that emphasizes building better relationships of trust, information, fairness and support between local food producers and the people buying and eating their food.

Figure 1: feedbacks in the food supply chain, local and global. (Davis et al., 2020)

To enhance Scotland’s self-sufficiency in food production, it is essential not only to develop local and short supply chains through domestic production capacities but also to match this supply with appropriate consumer demand. If Scottish consumers continue to prefer imported products, the demand for locally grown produce will remain low. For this reason, food sovereignty encompasses empowering local agricultural production techniques and enabling consumers to make informed consumption decisions in a combined fashion.

Barriers and opportunities

Local food supply chains have gained renewed interest in Scotland due to recent global economic and environmental disruptions, shedding light on vulnerabilities in supply chains to food security. Like the rest of the UK, Scotland imports a substantial amount of food, with the UK importing about 40% of its food supply.

Some opportunities that come with localising supply chains might include a multiplicity of actors coming together to coordinate logistics, share costs, and reduce environmental footprint, producers retaining a higher percentage of final product sale price, the implementation of value-added agriculture through diversification of on-farm and post-farm gate processing facilities, a push back to large retail sectors’ price setting capacity, increased opportunities for public procurement, the ability to implement renewable and innovative energy technologies, and fostering social bonds and a positive sense of place.

Some barriers might include burdening consumers with higher prices as opposed to cost-efficient industrialised supply chains, a shortfall of key intermediaries in rural areas, smaller production volumes and dependencies on seasonal supply, a reliance on a specialist skill set and community networks, a lack of consumer awareness and overarching food culture, and extensive food safety and labelling regulations.

Example initiatives

The Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS) has been instrumental in coordinating cross-supply chain initiatives, such as the Milk Suppliers Association.  Under the commitment to sourcing locally and complying to high ethical and sustainability standards, they have helped drive democratic decision-making in the sector.


Sterre Vester,

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