Restaurants are closing down. They are only allowed to offer take-away services. Supermarkets and hypermarkets have restrictions on the number and entry of customers and their opening hours. Open markets are also subject to limitations and many have ended up shutting down. Schools have been suspended. The small producers who supply local schools, restaurants and markets are still witnessing continuous production while the stable channels of distribution they relied upon suddenly vanished. On the consumer side, the Portuguese Government’s restrictions to limit movements and stay at home, compounded by the fear of going out on the street and the fear of contaminated imported food products, has brought the Portuguese to look at local farmers differently and come to see them as a healthy alternative for consuming fresh produces. Those who have contacts and access to these local producers can order fresh products harvested near their home and delivered at their doorstep with a simple phone call. The COVID19 crisis has changed the way consumers value local producers. In Central Alentejo, the Mediterranean Institute for Agriculture, Environment and Development (MED) of the University of Évora, has been working to enhance short agri-food chains and support new entrants to farming notably through the implementation of the Km0 Alentejo initiative which brings together several local actors such as the Évora City Council, Alentejo Tourism, trading organisations and the Évora Region Business Centre. Producers would have normally bet on restaurants and growing tourism in the Alentejo region, especially in the city of Évora, for selling the largest share of their products.
Under the current scenario, it was necessary to find alternative solutions. Drawing from its extensive partnership networks, the University of Évora released a list of producers and products and their contact details and the information was disseminated by the Municipality. In line with what has been happening at national level, the number of people and orders at local level have increased in the last weeks and this has gradually enabled the outflow of products and allowing producers to continue securing income. The Ministry of Agriculture officially launched, on the 30th of March, the campaign “Alimente quem o Alimenta” (“Feed those who feed you”) stating that “we must invest on our local products, on safe and quality products that guarantee national production. And all consumers are invited to this challenge”. According to the Ministry of Agriculture “taking into account the context marked by the epidemiological situation associated with the pandemic COVID-19, the campaign aims to encourage the consumption of local products and the use of proximity markets”.
It may be expected that consumers will continue, after the crisis, to invest in the consumption of local products and to trust their local producers. It’s time to reflect on new models and practices and explore how best can our networks and knowledge support small producers in the future?