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Revaluing institutional food procurement

Posted on | February 18, 2015 | Comments Off

WG24 – Revaluing institutional food procurement

A survey in the literature and praxis of public food procurement discloses two main narratives. The first, one can say, it is of ‘instrumentalist character’ in which the power of the public plate relies on the states’ economic, institutional and regulatory authority to convincing people to follow trends. Within this account, procurement policies should attempt to ‘rectify’ the contradictions of industrialized food systems. A major task in this articulation is to explain the role and identity of states and cities in supporting and creating procurement policies towards the ‘common good’, generally attached to sustainability concerns. While the state represents a main pillar of the instrumentalist procurement narrative, the second component, we can call it the reformist agenda, also includes other organizations like well founded NGO’s and United Nations Institutions. It is based more fundamentally on the idea that ‘responsible institutional’ food procurement inspires two waves of reform. In one hand, it promotes the creation of bounded markets for smallholder farmers (most of the times coupled with localization and rural development narratives) while strengthening access to adequate food (often associated with nutritional, cultural and right based discourses of consumption). On the other hand, it enables complex patterns of (inter) action and organization linking food system actors at multiple levels and scales, which in turn, enables food democracy to emerge in policy processes, governance structures, procurement and supplying practices.

In addition to these main narratives, the same survey also discloses that responsible institutional food procurement has increased amid municipalities, public schools and restaurants. At the forefront of this endeavor are large cities that represent both opportunities for scaling up and bottlenecks for smallholder farmers to supply food. But, urban settings are releasing the ‘city food imagination’ that is often expressed in food strategies, creative tendering processes and supportive policies. And farmers are re-discovering the value of producers’ cooperatives, short circuits and other forms of cooperation in processing and delivering activities.

In short, there are a variety of mechanisms and devices for public and institutional intervention. They can offer valuable insights on how to build up public food purchases and more sustainable, just and efficient food strategies. Consequently, we would like to hear experiences in responsible procurement practices by cities, different regions of the world and farmers, as well as small and large urban centers, comprising low-, medium or high levels of income. We also look forward submission of abstracts from NGOs and Multilateral organizations. In particular, this working group will give priority to contributions addressing the following themes:

• At theoretical level we welcome analysis on: how institutional food procurement is driven by different geo-histories, goals, structures and processes; anatomy of public food procurement agenda setting and the politics of scaling up; governance structures and processes designed to enabling change, coordination, learning and adaptation; how diverse and contested practices of procuring, supplying and consuming might lead to new perspectives – or political action – on sustainable, just, and secure food systems, participation and food democracy.

• From a food a more practical perspective we encourage papers discussing: the role, enablers and barriers of responsible institutional food procurement on integrating smallholder producers, women and youth into institutional markets; the contest and struggles between and among actors and public agents for elaborating rules, budgets, nutritional guidelines, quality standards and experimenting at local level; spin-off impacts on local food markets, rural development and the livelihood of smallholder producers; the processes of embedding culture in public tendering; the re-emergency of farmers cooperatives and collective devices.


Camilo Lozano Torres – Wageningen-UR, The Netherlands and Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil
Luana Swensson – International Consultant FAO
Sergio Schneider – Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil


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