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Business

Spanish farmers take food co-ops one step further

Independent farmers on the Mediterranean island of Majorca are bypassing distributors and selling their organic produce directly to customers over the Internet.

A potato field

Rafel Serrano uses only organic farming methods

Mika and Rafel Serrano are not your typical farmers. They own just a small piece of land and no livestock at all, but they are still able to live off their farm. The secret to success for many small growers like the Serranos is the sale of produce directly to consumers, without letting intermediary vendors take a cut of their earnings.

Rafel's stand at a farmers market

British and German expatriates are among Rafel's most frequent customers

The idea originated in food co-operatives, where consumers form groups to buy produce in bulk directly from farmers. But instead of waiting for potential customers to found a co-op and find the farmers, Majorcan growers are now selling their products on a website called "Aforavila."

Rafel just recently started selling his farm produce online. He says the website is boosting his business and helping Majorcans find products that are scarce on the island.

"One thing people can buy on the website is a basket delivered weekly with a varying selection of fruit, vegetables, eggs, some processed products, and even organic meat, which can be hard to come by," Rafel says.

Government support

The Majorcan government sponsors the website with the Foundation for Innovative Technologies and the Spanish Ministry for Industry, Tourism and Commerce.

But with government funds comes government bureaucracy: Before Rafel could sell his organic products on the Aforavila website, he had to submit a myriad of paperwork, certificates and checklists.

Organic produce website

The online store is sponsored by the government

The effort was worth it, says Rafel's partner Mika: "We were intrigued by the idea from the start. It's the first project of its kind on the Balearic Isles."

Benefiting farmers and customers

Choices are few when it comes to competing with larger industrialized farms. Small farms are numerous but produce only a fraction of the overall agricultural output. Their prices are usually higher than what the mass producers ask.

Cutting out wholesalers and distributors helps level the playing field and creates a win-win situation for farmers and customers. Farmers earn more than they would using a middleman, while customers pay less for their organic produce.

Carsten Reichel is one of Aforavila's happy customers. The German has been living on Majorca for four years. During his breakfast break, he likes going to the farmers market where Rafel sells his lettuces and olive oils.

Chickens behind a wire fence

Farmer Rafel raises chickens and sells their meat and eggs online

Rafel hands over a ready-packed bag of produce that Carsten pre-ordered online the night before. Carsten prefers online shopping to the bustling and hectic market: "It's pleasant to sit at home, see what there is on offer and think about what you want to cook that week. Then, all you have to do is click and buy."

Product transparency

Rafel and his fellow farmers provide plenty of information about their products and farms on the website. Customers can even talk to farmers directly on a web forum.

Supermarket shoppers, on the other hand, know much less about what they buy. All the information available to them is the writing on the carton.

Studies show that the more consumers know about a product, the more likely they are to buy it. Especially with organic products, knowing exactly where they come from and how they are farmed is crucial to shoppers' decision-making.

Many farmers have decided to jump on the bandwagon and are opening their own Internet stores – quite successfully. Some island farmers even take orders for their oranges and wine from places as far as Germany.

Author: Stefanie Eichler, Annika Reinert
Editor: Sam Edmonds

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