giovedì 26 giugno 2008

Supermarkets and Rural Development

Many public administrators in small rural towns and villages often consider the opening of a supermarket as an opportunity to create jobs, to boost local development and give modernity and efficiency stimuli to the local distribution and agrofood system. The changes induced by the opening of a supermarket in these contexts can actually have a deeper and wider extent because dramatic modifications are activated not only in the retail distribution system (just to talk about economic implications) but also in the production and consumption one. Many researches and empirical observations have confirmed the devastating effects for local economy caused by the presence of a small-mid sized supermarket (not to say big supermarkets, outlets or megastores): they are usually placed in external town areas functioning as “magnetic points” for endogenous and exogenous consumers who are thus pushed far away from the town centres. Let reflect about some myths about supermarkets in rural areas.

1) a supermarket creates jobs – supermarkets usually are shopping centres within wide retail networks of more or less big corporations and they can offer products at a very competitive prices yet not manageable for small local shops. Even if generating some jobs, a supermarket usually implies that many small independent shops (placed in the town centre) go bankrupt in particular bakers, grocers, butchers, ecc… The balance for job creation is thus negative.

2) Supermarkets can boost local development – products offered in a supermarkets are almost always “industrial” food products. Very rarely typical local products can reach the shelves. This implies that the money spent in a supermarket is siphoned away with no benefit for local farmers who have to cope with a severe competition. Farmers are forced to drive down prices (often below cost levels), are exploited and go bankrupt.

3) Supermarkets have no environmental impact – A new supermarket attracts local and external consumer and requires a remarkable flow of suppliers with big lorries. This implies an increase in traffic and a parallel increase in emission, noise and congestion. Consider also the huge heap of food and package wastes a supermarket produces.

4) Quality, supply and services improve – The benefits of a supermarket are good for who have the use of a car. For many elder people who live in the oldest parts of rural villages and towns all this represents a problem aggravated by the fact that independent small shops have closed. Surely supermarkets may offer lower prices but conversely quality is standardized and local genuine and typical products and traditions disappear.

Therefore when a local administrator is coping with such an option, he should be aware of the action of these factors because, even considering small gains in terms of some jobs, a new supermarket may cause strong speculative pressures on land and on construction, village and town degradation and abandoning (with a reduction also in tourist flows) and a global lowering in territorial economic performances and social conditions. There are also other implications to consider…

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