Kilmurry native Jim Fitzpatrick’s position has allowed him to gain a special insight into the food supply chain market throughout the world, identifying the many flaws, fluctuations and flagrant abuses of power seen between the developed and developing world.
Previously working for a large multinational which saw him travel internationally for twenty-five to thirty weeks of the year, examining food exports and production in Africa, Jim decided to set up his own consulting and marketing business, Ingredient Sourcing Solutions, allowing him to advise governments and push for business development in Africa with regards to getting the best value for their products.
Jim tells The Clare Echo about the environmental and humanitarian issues existing within African countries at the moment and of how making the right choices here in Ireland, can help bridge the gap between the developed and developing worlds.
The African continent is a rich and fertile landscape with regards to the capacity to grow specialised foods but lacks an adequate system of processing and production. Jim hopes to mitigate this by promoting industrialisation as well as economic and environmental development. He points to the detrimental effect the coronavirus has had on certain African countries, disrupting the supply chains in areas that have a deficit in infrastructure. The supply chain from Africa to Europe is laden with products that are well developed and their antithesis, underdeveloped items and processes.
Fresh fruit, cocoa and coffee are notorious for their African origins and are very well developed, Jim tells, however; a number of other products such as dried foods, seeds, grain, nuts do not ally with a well developed system of production and output. One poignant example that Jim alludes to is the processing of cashew nuts. Often this item is produced only five thousand miles kilometres from where it is bought in a supermarket, but insufficient infrastructure means that cashew nuts are sent out to India and Asia to be processed, return to Africa and then head onto their final destination, accumulating over thirty thousand kilometres in travel, proving costly in terms of carbon and financial strain on the developing world.
Jim affirms that African farmers are limited by consumer choices in the developing world and that this plays a huge role in imbalances found within the food market, “Fairtrade only accounts for five percent of the market. It is known as a specialised, certified market. A threshold price is set and this is then stepped up throughout the chain. A minimum price for the product and premium are the basis for Fairtrade. Countries like the Netherlands are not really supporting Fairtrade at a consumer level. The other interesting market in that area is organic food. That is another highly certified sector. Price premiums are between twenty and thirty percent in value. This is a rapid growing market. The market is driven by two things: consumer interest in health and consumer’s concern for the environment.
“Producing organic foods in Africa is technically not that difficult. The problem is in organising the farmers. Most of these products are grown by farmers that would farm on less than two hectares of land. These are tiny farm families, with incomes of between 400 and 600 dollars per year. If you can add a premium for organic or improve the yield on the farm or get them to have a better price, it can have a huge impact.”
A number of salient issues continue to plague the African continent, environmentally and with regards to human rights and labour. Conscience driven consumption is the only way to eradicate this, Jim insists. He notes a seismic shift in consumer choice patterns over the last decade, with consumers looking deeper than just a label pronouncing ethical sourcing. Trends in diets like vegetarian and vegan lifestyles are having a huge knock off effect in the developing world. Sixty-three per cent of Germans now want to reduce their meat consumption. Items grown and produced in Africa such as dried fruit, seeds and nuts are becoming more prevalent. Jim believes that supermarkets are now looking in the same direction as its consumers trends, as opposed to as little as ten years previous. Jim urges Irish consumers to buy with their conscience and not with their pockets.
“Verifying the claims of companies on labels is an essential aspect to being a conscience driven consumer. The social impact of food often lacks transparency. You have to look at the companies,” he said. “Cocoa has a huge reputation for child labour on farms but has since gone into Fairtrade and are making a real effort to eliminate that practice. Slave labour, intensive labour and child labour in farms and on factories is unfortunately, more common than we would think in developing countries. It is very common throughout the world. Take a look at your product in your local supermarket and see if the product is doing something to reassure that those practices have been eliminated. If enough people do it, change will happen.”