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Recap of the preparatory workshop for a Cambridge Policy Boot Camp in Nanjing | Innovating wet markets to promote the shift to healthy and sustainable diets

On the afternoon of March 22, the Good Food Fund held a seminar on "Shifting to Healthy and Sustainable Diets Through Innovations of Wet Markets". The seminar was a preparatory work for the Cambridge Policy Boot Camp (CPBC), which is scheduled to be launched in Nanjing in mid-2022.


What is WET Market?

At the beginning of 2020, wet markets appeared frequently in media reports due to their relevance to COVID-19 cases to some extent, and they are considered obsolete under the challenge of emerging “New Retail”. However, in many Chinese cities, wet markets are still vital as they are the main access to fresh foods including vegetables and fruits. It also plays an important role in strengthening community bonds and improving the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of farmers and food system workers.

There is nothing wrong with the wet market itself, but our uncoordinated policies and systems. Wet markets play a tremendous role in the agri-food system, and what we need is not a shut-down but a transformation.

—— Shenggen Fan, Dean of Academy of Global Food Economics and Policy, China Agricultural University

The COVID-19 crisis demonstrates how urgent our food system needs to be transformed and its goal is to promote well-being and ecological sustainability. Therefore, we proposed the concept of WET Market while “WET” stands for the initials of Well-being, Ecological Sustainability, and Transformation, to instill a new meaning and create a narrative around the importance of wet markets in the context of food system transformation.

The Good Food Fund and Slow Food Great China convened 16 authoritative experts in related fields around the world to provide support in drafting the WET Market Guidebook, in which the vision, the approach and typical cases of WET Market are presented. Next, the Good Food Fund and Slow Food Great China will collaborate with Jinbao Farmer’s Market Co., Ltd. (Nanjing) and Jiangsu Catering Industry Association to organize a Cambridge Policy Boot Camp (CPBC), to develop innovative solutions of wet markets for the shift to healthy and sustainable diets. The CPBC will be supported by the Centre for Resilience and Sustainable Development (CRSD) at the University of Cambridge and EAT.

Everyone should be aware that individual food choices do have an impact on the future of our planet. We hope that the WET Market transformation would fulfill everyone’s right to good, clean and fair food and shape a sustainable and fair food value chain.                                                                                    

       —— Leane Huang, Director of Jiangsu Promotion Center of Slow Food Great China


An overview of Nanjing’s wet market industry

At the seminar, Qing Yan, Secretary-General of Nanjing Wet Market Association, informed the participants that there are 360 wet markets in Nanjing currently, 300 of which had upgraded infrastructure and software systems by 2019, refreshing in every way. In the upgrading programs, the municipal government and the district government jointly invested 28 million yuan, accounting for 70 percent of the total investment, and the market owners contributed 30 percent. Although the proportion of food purchased from wet markets has declined in recent years, wet markets still account for more than half of the total food retail sales. Nowadays, the average daily flow of a single wet market exceeds 3,000 people, and the average transaction volume exceeds 120,000 yuan.

Qing Yan believes that the wet market is not a "sunset industry". Wet markets still have a promising future as long as they adapt to market changes and consumption upgrades. Now creating social functions is a new trend in wet market developments, and there have been more than 100 wet markets in Nanjing serving as  “neighborhood centers”.

Jinbao Farmer’s Market Co., Ltd. (Nanjing) is a key enterprise under Nanjing Jinling GoldFoil Group that specializes in the investment, development, operation and management of food wholesale and retail markets. It owns more than 10 wholesale and retail markets.

Yan Xu, Chairman of Jinbao Farmer’s Market, presented various measures taken by the company to sustain residents’secure access to healthy foods. including food safety testing, intelligent supply chain and big data traceability, healthy recipe recommendation, a complete range of supplies and standardized spatial division of the market.


Experts’ perspectives on WET Market Transformation

According to the Scientific Research Report for Chinese Dietary Guideline (2021), studies on different groups of people have shown that a balanced diet, which consists largely of plant-based foods (eat more vegetables, fruits, aquatic products and milk, moderate amounts of meat and eggs, and a limited amount of salt and oil) has better health outcomes.

The results of a study of the dietary structure and nutrient intake status of urban and rural residents in Nanjing show that their intake of cereals, vegetables, aquatic products and eggs has reached or barely met the recommended requirements, while the intake of whole grains and beans, potatoes, fruits, soybeans and nuts, and milk and dairy products is insufficient, and the intake of meat, oil and salt is too high. The results indicate a westernisation of diets and imply that a variety of practical health interventions should be in place to promote the dietary shift and reduce the risks of nutrition-related chronic diseases.

Under this circumstance, the seminar also invited Shenggen Fan, Dean of Academy of Global Food Economics and Policy, China Agricultural University; Dazhou Zhu, Deputy Director of Division of Science and Technology, Institute of Food and Nutrition Development, Ministry of Agriculture; Shuru Zhong, Postdoctoral Fellow in School of Tourism Management, Sun Yat-sen University and Olav Kjørven, Senior Director of Strategy of EAT, to contribute their expertise for promoting healthy diets through innovations of wet markets.


Improve the inclusiveness for smallholder farmers and increase organic food availability

Based on her in-depth research in wet markets and sustainable food system, Shuru Zhong pointed out that the inclusiveness of the wet markets for smallholder farmers can be improved by setting up special areas within the wet market for them to sell their produce, or allowing their produce to enter the wet market with certain identification. Besides, introducing produce from small-scale eco-farms or leading organic food enterprises into the markets is also a good idea to enrich residents’ food choices.


Improve food labelling and guide consumers’ behavioral change

Produce in wet markets usually has information about promotion and origin, and Dazhou Zhu suggested that information about nutritional values and production methods could also be provided to educate consumers and influence their purchasing behavior. This calls for innovations in formulating incentive policies and improving relative standards and regulations.

Additionally, Shuru Zhong suggested that information about seasonal produce and produce with special nutritional values could also be provided.


Carry out accurate, multi-dimensional promotion of healthy diets

Qing Yan pointed out that the educational level of wet market vendors is generally low, thus leading to communication barriers. But even so, these urban food system workers still play an important role in linking up upstream suppliers and consumers. Therefore, Shuru Zhong suggested that vendors should be empowered to influence consumers on food nutrition knowledge. Plus, Dazhou Zhu highlights the importance of influencing the influencers, who buy and prepare food for the  family, to effectively promote the shift to healthy diets.

We need to conduct more field research, and combine nutrition science with local knowledge, to build a multi-dimensional communication system. Especially for food groups that should be emphasized such as beans, it is important to equip consumers with practical solutions in their lives.

                                                                                                               ——Shuru Zhong

The biggest influence on family eating habits is the person who buys and prepares the food. These “nutritional gatekeepers” could improve the health of the whole family. Interventions should be in place at the wet markets, where these gatekeepers frequently visit.

                                                                                                          ——Dazhou Zhu

Dazhou Zhu believes that advocating for healthy diets (such as eating less meat) may not have direct benefits for wet markets in the short term, but can be very meaningful for brand cultivation in the long term.

As early as four or five years ago, Nanjing’s wet markets tried to launch public welfare programs such as shared kitchens and healthy diet education, which failed eventually due to the lack of a sustainable business model. It is a pity. Therefore, the Nanjing Wet Market Association will strongly support the Cambridge Policy Boot Camp and welcome all suggestions for a better wet market.

  ——Qing Yan


Attract young people to wet markets

According to the Nanjing Wet Market Association, middle and old-aged people account for 80% of Nanjing's wet market consumers. Qing Yan pointed out that wet markets should adapt to the fast-paced life of young people. Therefore, Shuru Zhong suggested promoting some healthy pre-made food and setting up certain areas within the wet market for on-site cooking and eating, to meet the demands of young people. Furthermore, Olav Kjørven emphasized that educating young people about the values of wet markets, as a vital part of  food systems solutions, should also be considered in the Cambridge Policy Boot Camp.

One of the key points of this Policy Boot Camp is to show young people what wet markets really are, and to change the misconception of considering wet markets as something from the past that only old people make use of. Instead, wet markets are precisely the solutions to many global problems we are faced with.

When it comes to the future of the food system, we’ve found the vision of wet markets in Nanjing very powerful and we look forward to disseminating the result to other countries around the world.

—— Olav Kjørven

The discussion above echoes with the Good Food Fund’s other projects such as Eco Chef, Mama’s Kitchen, Toolkits for Healthy and Sustainable Diets, Youth Talent Development Program, etc.. In the WET Market project, we look forward to working with policymakers, communities, and other stakeholders at all levels to promote the transformation of the wet market towards a healthier, more sustainable and more equitable urban food system hub.


Preview: Cambridge Policy Boot Camp will be held in the middle of the year

In the seminar, Dr Nazia Habib, Director of the Centre for Resilience and Sustainable Development (CRSD) at the University of Cambridge, explained the tools and procedures of the Cambridge Policy Boot Camp (CPBC) in detail.

The CPBC introduces systems thinking into a participatory policy consultation process, and it is an action-research methodology combining multiple analytical tools from different disciplines in an integrated fashion. Each CPBC is designed to strengthen the mental capacity of the participants to embrace challenges and find the leverage driving system-level change. By bringing together a diverse group of no less than 50 participants, which contains stakeholders and shareholders representatives from complex backgrounds, the CPBC creates a co-creation condition for innovative solutions.

In the end, participants of the seminar gave constructive feedback on how to apply the CPBC to local contexts, how to implement the outcomes of the CPBC, and how to encourage youth participation. Dazhou Zhu said that currently the prepackaged food in supermarkets is regulated by the National Health Commission and the State Administration for Market Regulation, while the produce in wet markets remains unsupervised, and this blank area is his team’s research interest. He suggested that after the success of Nanjing wet market transformation, the Institute of Food and Nutrition Development of the Ministry of Agriculture can get involved and submit typical cases to relevant policymakers through appropriate channels such as the Two Sessions. In addition, all players in the industry should unite together and strong appeal for policy improvement and implementation.

For the next step, the Good Food Fund will further cooperate with its partners in Nanjing, CRSD and EAT, conducting in-depth field research and connecting various stakeholders, to make adequate preparations for the upcoming CPBC.


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