Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Small farmers, most of whom still rely on more sustainable practices, are struggling to survive: they cannot sustain prices offered by large retailers who only pay them 40% of list prices. While prices paid by consumers would be enough for them to survive, they have very little direct access to consumers because of the growing industrial supermarkets that are used by the majority of consumers. Large retailers purchase from an increasingly industrial agricultural sector which uses monoculture and high volumes of pesticides and herbicides. (France is actually the first user of these products in Europe.) Every year, thousands of farms disappear, while the quality of water, soils and employment in the agricultural sector is worsening. According to Terre de Liens, the total number of farms has dropped by 20% over 50 years in France
In France, 85% of farming land today belongs to farmers aged 55 and older, and when they retire the trend of disppearing small farms will accelerate if there is no viable way for younger farmers to take over successfully. This is hindering a rising movement of young people who would like to set up organic or sustainable farms but are not sure they will be able to make a living.
While being a small, sustainable farmer is becoming less and less viable, consumption patterns in France and Europe have changed dramatically over the past decade. Increasingly, consumers want to buy locally and sustainably. According to the Natural Marketing Institute, 70% of consumers declare that they would like to consume local and sustainable foods but that they do not have access to a distribution system that they trust and which offers products at a fair price and with traceable origins. There seems to be a missed opportunity for a revitalized value chain that would allow for direct purchase from small producers and satisfy a growing demand. In particular, considering the growth of the online market for food and the rising presence of conscious consumers on social networks, and its accessibility to younger generations, the Internet seems to be a promising path that is yet to be explored.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Guilhem has created La Ruche qui Dit Oui (“the beehive that says yes”), a new marketplace for local, sustainable suppliers that targets mainstream consumers. Guilhem brings together a critical mass of consumers and gives them access to a distribution system for local, smallscale and environmentally-sustainable products. Each local “Ruche,” or distribution point, is led by a leader from the community who recruits nearby consumers and producers and also manages a dedicated online marketspace for that Ruche hosted by a national online platform. Incentivized by a small share of the trade and a leadership role in the community, these budding entrepreneurs are driving a more viable marketplace for local, sustainable artisanal food production in France and eventually across Western Europe.
The increased viability of this alternative marketplace for local suppliers is significant. List prices compare with industrial products found in the supermarket, thus ensuring a fair income for who receive 80% of the price versus 40% under the traditional food distribution system. But not just any local producer can take part. Suppliers must be using organic methods or be in the process of moving towards organic production. They must also be practicing hygienic and transparent production and storage methods in line with local regulations. These minimum criteria maintain the quality of both the products and the broader network as it scales to new regions and borders.
As the network grows, local communities, producers and Ruche Entrepreneurs are connected locally and nationally via the online platform where exchange of information and best practices also occur. This has allowed for a quick multiplication of Ruches across France, and helps provide specific support to farmers who can collaborate with each other and seek out advice and technology to grow their access to markets.
This distribution model brings local consumers and local farmers together thanks to the mobilization of a nationwide network of changemakers who, inspired by Guilhem's vision, can become “Ruche Entrepreneurs”. Their role is to organize local groups of consumers and producers in their area and to set up, on a regular basis, physical distribution of a large choice of local, sustainable products. While list prices compare with industrial products found in the supermarket, products are guaranteed to be local and high quality, while ensuring a fair income to farmers who receive 80% of the price versus 40% under the traditional food distribution system. These Ruche entrepreneurs are incentivized with a small share of the trade, while the remaining is invested in growing the movement nationwide.
Local communities, producers and Ruche Entrepreneurs are connected locally and nationally thanks to an online platform where they trade products, exchange information and become part of a conscious movement. This allows for a quick multiplication of Ruches across France, and helps provide specific support to farmers who can collaborate among each other and seek out advice and technology to grow their access to markets.