Exploring the role of Short Food Supply Chains in enhancing the livelihoods of small-scale food producers
: Evidence from The United Kingdom and The Gambia

  • Luke Owen

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Short Food Supply Chains (SFSC) can be understood as ‘alternatives’ to conventional, complex food chains that tend to dominate contemporary agri-food systems. They redefine producer-consumer relations through socially and physically ‘closer’, more transparent supply chains founded upon quality cues associated with provenance, whereby products become embedded with information about the spaces of production. It has been argued that SFSC can have significant socio-economic benefits for rural development, providing livelihoods for small-scale, independent food producers who would otherwise be marginalised from food markets.

    SFSC have received plenty of attention amongst ‘alternative’ agri-food scholars in recent years. However, empirical research has typically addressed SFSC in relation to a specific set of values, politics and traditions, examining a locale or region in relation to cultural structures ingrained in a particular context. This has resulted in vast amounts of agri-food literature with specific reference to the contexts of Europe, North America and other global North regions. Attention to countries from the global South has increased recently, but there are limited cross-cultural, comparative analyses between regions from the global North and South. This is surprising given that small-scale food producers the world over face similar obstacles associated with access to markets, adaptation to climate change, contradictory policies and development programmes and increased competition from imports.

    This research investigates how SFSC operate in context, drawing on evidence from case studies in rural regions of The Gambia, West Africa and East England; illustrative cases of the global North and South. This thesis adopts an inductive methodology, incorporating grounded theory and a range of qualitative methods and data analysis techniques. The regional food group Tastes of Anglia and social enterprise named ‘Gambia is Good’ served as gatekeepers and provided access to small-scale food producers in each case. The Sustainable (Rural) Livelihoods Framework as originally conceived by the Department for International Development (DFID) was used as a conceptual toolkit to guide data collection and analyses. This involved an amalgamation of the largely disparate ‘alternative’ agri-food literature with that of sustainable livelihoods, revealing the important role that horizontal embeddedness and vertical embeddedness have in the context of SFSC.

    This research has found that in The Gambia, limited access to capital assets, infrastructural constraints and a lack of social embeddedness between rural producers and customers in the high value tourist industry undermines SFSC as viable livelihood strategies. This is in contrast to the UK, where food producers have access to a wider set of resources and can also draw on established ‘quality’ cues associated with Product-Process-Place linkages to market their products. Results suggest this is due to the historical (agri)cultural trajectories of East Anglia and spatial-temporal synergies that enable products embedded with information to be differentiated in competitive marketplaces.

    The processes enabling this differentiation can be considered as a form of cultural capital. This cannot be as readily drawn upon in The Gambia given its different agricultural and political-economic histories, and comparatively weaker forms of vertical embeddedness. This raises questions about the relevance and transferability of SFSC models to contexts such as The Gambia and other ‘similar’ regions in sub-Saharan Africa and the global South. The broader implications of these findings are discussed and five future research agendas that explore the key processes of horizontal and vertical embeddedness in both the global North and South are presented.
    Date of Award2014
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorHazel Barrett (Supervisor) & Marion MacLellan (Supervisor)


    • Short Food Supply Chains
    • Cultural Capital
    • Sustainable Livelihoods
    • The Gambia
    • East Anglia
    • Embeddedness

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