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World Union Of Wholesale Markets  And The Food And Agriculture Organization Unite To Identify Best Practices For Markets And Food Distribution

Maria Cavit, Secretary General, World Union of Wholesale Markets (WUMM), based at The Hague in the Netherlands, recently sent along a note:

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Union of Wholesale Markets (WUWM) have agreed to collaborate to identify and disseminate interesting good practices and lessons learnt in any country on improvements in food distribution infrastructure (assembly, wholesale, retail including storage) of any size in urban and periurban areas.

WUWM and FAO are interested in learning about a wide range of good practices and lessons learnt related to improvements in wholesale and retail markets as well as food storage facilities: new infrastructure, relocations, as well as approaches to solve operational and logistic constraints, integration of small farmers, facilitated access by consumers, improved compliance with rules and regulations, provision of better services, adoption of new technology, etc.

Lessons learnt can also refer to interventions or practices that may have been less successful than originally intended. Such experiences can often be more instructive than successful ones.

It sounded like a most interesting project, so we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more, and Maria suggested we speak with the Chairman of the organization.

Manuel Estrada-Nora
World Union of
Wholesale Markets (WUWM)

We were intrigued to learn more about the collaboration between the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Union of Wholesale Markets (WUWM) to identify and disseminate good practices and lessons learned in developing food market infrastructure to improve food distribution at local, national and international levels.

Q: Issues you’re addressing sound challenging, complex and far-reaching. Was there a particular trigger that pushed the project forward?

A: The initial idea was born in the FAO, conscious of the importance of having efficient fresh food markets that confront the challenge to bring safe, sanitary, healthy and widely accessible food to both local, national and international markets in an efficient and sustainable manner.

For a project like this, FAO has approached WUWM with which it has had a long-lasting relationship. WUWM has a market membership spanning five continents, but we are also a non-profit association that can take part in this project without the influence of economic interest. One of the main aims of WUWM is to ensure an exchange of information and experience exists in order to improve the management of food wholesale and retail markets everywhere.

Q: How will the collaboration work exactly? Is this effort unique in breadth and scope, and in the context of other projects undertaken thus far?

A: This is a unique collaborative opportunity, and we hope to carry out more of this type of joint initiative in the future, especially with some of the aims of the FAO and the WUWM being so very similar. WUWM is open to collaboration with all multilateral and international institutions sharing this common interest. Indeed, this project also involves the Sustainable Society Network (Imperial College London).

The modus operandi is very simple: the project partners will help to identify the best practices and lessons learnt by market management the world over. Those submissions of best practice will be reviewed by an editorial board, and then each will contribute towards the presentation and eventual dissemination of the results, aimed to be a publication of good value to markets the world over.

Q:What and where are the biggest areas of concern you are bent on tackling? WUWM has raised a broad range of complex issues in wholesale and retail markets as well as food storage facilities: new infrastructure, relocations, approaches to solve operational and logistic constraints, integration of small farmers, facilitated access by consumers, improved compliance with rules and regulations, provision of better services, adoption of new technology, etc. 

A: You mention a number of aspects that are very important to turn traditional wholesale markets into real logistical food centers. The companies that operate in one way or another on such food centers (wholesalers, retailers, export-import companies, catering, restaurants suppliers, etc.) have all the services and facilities they need to be more efficient and competitive. This has already been achieved by many wholesale markets in, for example, Europe and North America — what we would call the ‘third-generation wholesale markets’. In other parts of the world, especially Latin America and Asia, food markets are taking very significant steps forward.

It is important that the management of wholesale markets, as with those of any company (either private or state-owned), know exactly where they want to be, having identified their goals for the mid- and long-term. Market management that keeps clear its aims needs to formulate a strategic plan in a systematic, organized and prioritized way, and many of these good practices and learnt lessons will support those efforts.

Q: Can you provide examples of pressing issues that you believe need to be urgently addressed? Do you have any notable stories to illustrate the value of pursuing this project?

A: There is a series of key points that should be the priority of every market manager: food safety and hygiene; the transparency of the market in the sense of generating competition among the wholesale operators themselves – and also between the traditional retail sector and the big chains of retail distribution (referring always to fresh product).

Another aspect is to guarantee internal safety inside the market. But this aspect, while being important, is not on its own sufficient. The market must be organized in an efficient way, so that there can be a reduction in operational costs as well as a minimization in food loss and waste. This latter part is one of the great worries of the present time (an FAO report published in 2011 estimated global food loss and waste as being one-third of the food produced for human consumption in mass, or one-quarter as measured in calories). Food wholesale and retail markets can effectively contribute to reducing this amount.

On the other hand, wholesale market management must be conscious that a large number of small and medium enterprises are born (and grow-up) in their premises and facilities. Studies show how market development can be a good tool for generating employment of youth as well as ethnic minorities. Food markets are ‘incubators’ of companies and, because of that, all these good practices and learnt lessons may also be seen to contribute to facilitating the operative and ongoing development of these companies.

Q: Areyou targeting particular countries/areas or designating more efforts in certain locations due to need?

A: I believe that networking and benchmarking will generate interesting ideas for food markets whatever their socio-economic environment or level of development. We could certainly say that those food markets in the worst of conditions, and with major problems, would be the ones to profit most from an initiative like this. Nevertheless, for more than 20 years, I have visited many food markets worldwide, and I can say that in every visit to a wholesale or retail market, I have learnt something valuable or new.

Q: Could you share some of those insights?

A: It is clear that the problems facing food markets may vary according to the level of development of the country, their physical location, as well as the amount and nature of the food products they handle daily. For example, in some wholesale markets in Central America, child labor can be a real problem, while in some European markets the problem could be the quality and cost of the telecommunications network. As WUWM has many members from varying socio-economic environments, I consider our participation in this project to be both vital and beneficial for the project, providing access to information from an interesting, diverse and varied membership. 

Q: With so many variables involved, such as economic and political obstacles, how complicated will it be to instigate these changes?

A: The exchange of information, ongoing communication, and ensuring an eagerness exists to take advantage of good ideas and experiences of third parties is a natural way of introducing good practice and learnt lessons. In WUWM, we do not have the power to impose, but we do have an opportunity to make recommendations. We would like that both the market authorities and its management (as well as local planners) have the opportunity to benefit from the experiences, solutions and ideas undertaken in other markets of the world.

There is a need to strengthen links between market infrastructure and territorial planning at urban, provincial and metropolitan levels.

Q: How challenging is it to get managers of wholesale or retail markets to provide meaningful information in the WUWM-FAO Questionnaire? Are there privacy issues, for instance? How many people actually participate, and is that participation concentrated in particular countries? (How does the selection of grants for papers work, etc.) 

A: Of course, the challenge is to obtain as many answers as possible, and with most illustrative and explanatory content possible. We all know that statistically a questionnaire is never answered by 100% of addressees. Because of that, we want to transmit to food market managers the importance of this initiative, which we promoted at our conference recently held in London, UK ( We have mailed both members as well as non-member markets. The FAO has also disseminated the questionnaire to market contacts in its network. An editorial board comprising the project partners will ultimately determine those best practices worthy of further attention.

Q: How long do you anticipate the project to take? Are there different stages planned?

A: We are at the initial phase of the project, having recently launched it, and we took advantage of the opportunity at the WUWM Conference in London from 24-26 September to promote it further. Our priority is to do it right and take the necessary time. We hope it may be possible to present the results in our May 2015 WUWM Conference being held in Budapest (Hungary).

Q: Will you be conducting separate cost/benefit analyses based on the information collected? 

A: It is a possibility that we must contemplate, provided that the nature of the gathered information allows us to do so.

Q: Will you be incorporating the WUWM concept of “Think Global & Act Local” with regional working groups to disseminate the information and help execute solutions?.

A: It is true that the food industry is globalized and that the international trade of fresh fruits and vegetables is very important. But it is also true that traditional wholesale and retail markets are very linked to the local or national food production, to the growers markets, and to the culture and local customs.

Due to the diversity of social and economic contexts, the WUWM has several regional working groups (Europe, Latin America, Asia-Pacific) so that the markets in these zones of the world may work more intensively on issues of common concern or interest. This allows for the implementation of appropriate ideas or solutions and, yes, ‘to act locally’.

Q: How will this information be compiled and disseminated to maximize its usefulness through varied supply chains? Could you discuss your organization’s structure in this regard? Could you provide perspective on the number of wholesale markets across the globe? How interconnected are they, and how does WUWM help bring them together?  

A: A comprehensive publication will be the final product of this project. We are at present treating these questions of procedure together with the FAO. The network contacts of WUWM are very wide and not only consist of our market membership, but also other markets, institutions, experts, journalists, professors and professionals with whom we keep contact.

Q: How can U.S. produce industry executives be most helpful in bringing your mission to fruition? In addition to participating in the Questionnaire, what other ways can produce industry executives get involved?

A: Traders and food industry executives are the real clients of food logistic and commercial complexes. Because of that, it is vital that the owners and management of these food centers understand well their clients — their needs, objectives and achievements. In this way, market managers are ‘client-orientated,’ to the mutual benefit of both the management of the market, as well as the food industry/trade.

There was a call for papers launched by FAO, which opens the possibility also to researchers and academics to propose analytical articles on relevant aspects of food market infrastructure developments.

See ‘call for papers.’


Our sense is that rising urban land values are putting markets around the world under pressure. This is because the cost of building a market or of not selling a market is obvious and quantifiable, whereas the benefits are difficult to quantify.

On the one hand, wholesale markets are the distribution centers for independent retailers and restaurants in major cities. These are the institutions that fill cities with life and interest and serve as portals for countless immigrants to begin a journey upward in society.

On the other hand, these markets are what make possible production of most fruits and vegetables. Supermarkets or multiples are a much-prized market, but they only buy what they want – certain sizes, certain grades, certain varieties. The wholesale market merchant is distinct as he sees himself as the agent for the producer and thus undertakes to help the producer sell what he needs to sell, the unusual variety, the off size, the imperfect grade. All over the world, the ability and willingness of market traders to help growers in this way provide the crucial margin that keeps growers profitable.

This project has the potential to help markets thrive, and anything that does that is good not just for market traders but for cities needing life and rural areas needing customers. We wish the WUWM and the FAO the very greatest of success in their collaboration.

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