A three-day study tour offered representatives from six Central and Eastern European countries the opportunity to visit state-of-the-art Italian wholesale markets and study interactions between wholesale markets and modern food retail systems.
The trip, which took place from 6 to 8 June 2005, was organized by FAO in collaboration with the Central European Initiative (CEI) Wholesales Market Foundation.
In Central and Eastern Europe, national and local authorities have sometimes neglected fresh produce wholesale markets and underestimated the advantages that can be gained from modern market infrastructure in promoting and supporting efficient and transparent marketing channels. The purpose of the tour was to illustrate and explain how modern market infrastructure is managed and can be organized and financed for the benefit of both consumers and local producers.
The delegation of the CEI Wholesale Market Foundation, represented by Albania, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Ukraine, visited the wholesales markets of Rome, Fondi, Salerno and Naples, each representing different types of markets. The Naples and Rome markets are primarily serving the retail network and therefore the consumers of these two large urban centres. The market in Fondi is an assembly market, concentrating large volumes of fruit and vegetables produced in the south of Italy.
The market, one of the largest in Europe with 1.2 million tons of throughput, is also a centre where fresh produce is graded, sorted and packed before being reconsigned to all destinations in Italy and abroad. The Salerno market, by contrast, is much smaller but a typical example of a market combining the functions of an urban wholesale market and an assembly market serving local producers.
The Italian wholesale market system changed significantly when a law, passed in 1986, legislated for the modernization and expansion of Italy’s main wholesale markets. The law changed the management structure of markets, passing from municipality-based to more flexible management structures, with markets being established as joint stock companies. The law, recognizing the benefits for consumers and producers alike, foresaw a significant allocation of public funds for the modernization of the market structures. Both the new markets in Naples and Rome and the Fondi market, along with 11 other markets, were built as a result of this law.
The topics covered during the visit ranged from the ownership and management structure of the various Italian markets to the new facilities and services provided by market companies to their clients. Several examples of innovative public-private partnerships were explained. For instance, in Fondi, although the market company is 51% under public ownership, private shareholders - representing market users - have a majority in the assembly of the company and therefore in management decisions. This allows the market to be more responsive to the needs of its clients. Other topics included food safety and quality control systems implemented by market companies to implement food safety standards, as well as the importance of the cooperative sector in the Italian fruit and vegetable sector. In addition to the study tour, FAO organized a seminar on the linkages between the food retail industry and the wholesale markets.
The study tour resulted in bilateral contacts, at technical and commercial level, both within the CEI foundation members as well as with the Italian markets.
FAO is planning to organize further exchanges of know-how in the context of the CEI WM Foundation. It will propose to utilize the recent experience of Polish wholesale markets to support a new project of the World Bank, involving FAO’s Investment Centre, which aims at promoting modern fresh produce market facilities in Ukraine.