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Local Food Governance – An element of regional development for Nord Pas de Calais Region (France)

In 2012, driven by the Vice President in Charge of Food, Regional agriculture and rurality, Jean-Louis ROBILLARD, the Nord Pas de Calais region (NPDC Region) is the first French region to designate food governance as one of the main strategic elements for the regional development (Opération de développement – OD). This is one of the nine OD initiated since 2010, as part of the Ecological and Social Transformation of the Nord Pas de Calais Region. The main objectives are to facilitate access to quality food for all and to build up locally a more sustainable food system.

Download this article as a Local Food Governance in Nord Pas de Calais Region (France) – IUFN Case study 2014.

Check the interview with Jean-Louis ROBILLARD, Vice-President of Nord Pas de Calais Regional Council, sharing his point of view on this exciting project and the one with Dominique TRINEL, Local Food Governance Project Manager at Nord Pas de Calais Regional Council.

In 2013, the region innovated with the creation of a mechanism for citizen’s participation – the Regional Instance of Public Debate – as part of a regional policy for participative democracy, in order to involve citizens in the definition of regional policies.

A large consultation process was launched by the NPDC Region between October 2012 and June 2014, including 3 complementary steps:

  • Regional food system professional’s consultation
  • Open Public debate ‘And tomorrow, what will we eat?’
  • Complementary initiatives/projects launched during the whole consultation process

IUFN – International Food Network was asked by the region to support the process as one of the four experts of the Special Commission on Public Debate, which allowed the NGO to follow very closely the process in terms of methodology, organization and content. A final report of the Special Commission on Public Debate was delivered to the NPDC Region representatives in September 2014.

An Ambitious and structured consultation process

Consultation of regional food system professionals

Starting in October 2012, ten meetings gathering more than 400 food system professionals were organized by NPDC region. Invited to participative workshops, the various actors were invited to share with local representatives their visions of a sustainable food system. Tangible solutions for making professional practices more sustainable were identified together with the professionals. However, economic and organizational bottlenecks were identified as obstacles to a rapid change in the sector. Professionals underlined the importance of a local political support  and collective rallying for the success of the regional food transition.

Complementary initiatives

At the end of the initial consultation and during the public debate process, the NPDC Region asked a number of regional actors, as well as national experts to produce specific outputs.. Therefore, the Resource Center for Sustainable Development (CERDD) launched a document for sustainable food in NPDC Region, a document destined to enhance food systems actors’  awareness. A private consulting agency was engaged to realize a prospective study on the future of the food system in the region. Another study still under way today, in cooperation with the French Ministry of Environment, Energy and Sustainable development and Gilles Billen, Research Director at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), member of IUFN’s Strategic Advisory Board, focuses on the impact of food production on water resources. It includes an objective analysis of the regional food production potential.

Public Debate ‘And tomorrow, what will we eat?’

The Public debate focusing on sustainable food in the NPDC Region was launched as the first debate supported by the Regional Instance on Public Debate. Among the many issues raised during the four-month consultation, local elected representatives wished to focus on health and food sovereignty issues through  two following questions:

      • Could the NPDC Region feed its population (rural and urban) by supporting local agriculture?
      • What quality food and what behavior shifts are necessary for having a healthy population?

Over 700 people representing various fields of expertise (local elected representatives, farmers, citizens, retailers, agro-food businesses, etc.) took part in the different meetings organized during the Public Debate process:

      • 3 informal meetings with civil society (empirical surveys allowing to gather the opinion of over 100 consumers) through a questionnaire
      • 5 thematic forums in cities throughout the NPDC region
      • 1 opening forum, 1 closing forum
      • Regional food system professionals and civil society representatives’ reports on specific local initiatives and/or on strategic topics (22 reports in total)

The different discussions and participatory processes allowed coming to a number of consensus, such as the need to:

      • Reinforce trust between all actors of the food system by creating more links at the local level, in particular between producers and consumers
      • Make public procurement exemplary, in order to educate people on local and quality food issues
      • Use of land planning as a lever to revitalize local agro-food economy and to allow access to local food for all
      • Develop local production and short food supply chains
      • Enhance, through information and education, a change in the consumer’s habits towards a more healthy and qualitative consumption, taking into account the price constraint
      • Promote jobs in agriculture, food production and help young farmers to set up in business
      • Promote local food products
      • Support diversification and a shift in professional practices in agro-food sector and mainly the production phase.

However, some issues stay rather controversial. Amongst these are mainly:

      • the issue of the agro-food model – i.e.: Should we promote food sovereignty of the region or keep the regional food system open to exports and imports? Should we aim at an organic agricultural model or should we respect diversity?
      • as well as the issue of the impact of chemicals on consumer’s and farmer’s health, on the gustatory quality of products, or on environment.

Therefore, most of the challenges highlighted during the Public debate correspond to the challenges identified at the national, European, but also regional political scale. These include issues like for instance short food supply chains, diversification of agriculture, children education at school or at home, consumers’ information in order to make informed consumption choices, or even the role of public procurement in the promotion of local products. It therefore seems necessary to articulate this complementarity between the different scales of action. Other themes, such as food waste, food access, environmental impact, despite their importance, were not mentioned in the context of the Public debate and would deserve to be  at more in detail.

The role of local authorities

The responsibility of the national government and of local authorities in this field was raised all along the debate. Many speakers however showed scepticism regarding the capacity of local authorities to act on open and global markets. Though, tangible proposals were made during the debate for public authorities and more generally for all actors of the food chain, including consumers.

Participants insisted mainly on the capacity of public authorities to open and secure the demand for local products, both conventional and organic. Local authorities were invited to use their capacity of influence on local land use regulations in order to support urban and peri-urban agriculture and to preserve agricultural land nearby the city. Following elements were highlighted as main potential levers for a shift towards a more sustainable local food system:

  • Public procurement and catering as main levers for local action. The exemplarity of local authorities for food provisioning as a key motivational element and a strong political sign.
  • Support to a sustainable agro-food system. A long lasting financial support and the securing of demand were asked to support the development of alternative models.
  • Land planning. The intervention of public authorities in land and urban planning in general, aiming at reducing the urban-rural gap. Building a better lifestyle, more in line with citizens’ current desire of more sustainability.
  • Participatory processes. Giving access to the debate and to information on food to a larger public, including lay audiences.
  • Food governance. The importance of networking between actors in order to restore trust and mutual understanding. Ensuring a better distribution of the value added between the actors of the food chain also seems to be a key step in order for actors to start the discussion. Overwhelming presence of large-scale retail hampers the other actors of the chain.
  • The relevant scale. For experimental purposes, the local scale might be a relevant lever in order to foster local and quality procurement for public catering. The inter-municipal/ regional level seems to be a relevant scale for the organization of this system.

The key step of capitalization

Today, the NPDC region seems to have gathered enough elements to build up a regional food policy. The time has therefore come to capitalize on this information and define a comprehensive and coherent policy, based on the feedbacks from the consultation of the regional actors and on the technical expertise of municipal teams. IUFN continues to monitor carefully this process and will support the diffusion of the final results of this work.

For more information, visit the French website of the project: www.participons.net.