Westerners who associate Japan with technology (ok, someone will immediately mention Fukushima, but still) will be surprised to learn that it is, in fact, a hive of local organic food networks known as teikei (cooperation, in Japanese).
Millions of consumers participate in one of these collectives, and as become part of everyday life. Each week they go to meet the producers of their teikei to collect their food basket, composed mainly of vegetables.
The system was born in the late 1960s, when Japan was in the middle of a very strong wave of economic and industrial growth. Pollution soon became a widespread problem and the environment was damaged by the intensive use of pesticides and chemical products. A group of urban mothers decided to invite farmers to join a local initiative and subsequently created the first round of teikei dairy cooperatives.
This direct sales system is based on a relationship of trust. Consumers pay a subscription fee in advance, before the food is delivered giving the farmers have a guaranteed income. The farmers, in turn, are committed to produce according to a plan, mutually agreed by the parties and established early in the season. This agreement determines the variety, quantity of produce and so forth.
In 1978 a charter teikei was established. Being the first it was also the most important to its promoters as it was to set the tone of the movement’s philosophy. The first objective was to “build a friendly and creative relationship, and not just behave following economic interests“.
Prices were set directly by the producer, but “in the spirit of providing mutual benefit” to the parties. Even so, by cutting out third parties they were able to offer very competitive prices when compared to conventional rates.
Over the years teikei has contributed to the establishment of an efficient agro-ecological system, helping to maintain biodiversity in the country.
The teikei have inspired various movements around the world: in the United States and in Europe, some similar movements have been born, such as Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA). Probably one of the most striking examples is provided by the Associations of Peasant Agriculture (AMAP), founded in France in 2001.
Groups similar to teikei exist now in fifteen countries worldwide and the number is destined only to increase