Why does Islamabad need a farmers market?


One of the first articles I wrote in my first job at The Chester Chronicle was on the new farmers* market in the city. This would have been about 1999. Supermarkets had ravaged the British high street sending traditional family greengrocers, butchers and fishmongers to the wall. Small producers, who couldn’t deliver tonnes of blemish-free foodstuffs, weren’t wanted. Uniformity was the order of the day.

So the farmers market was a necessary, much-needed development. Small-scale farmers could sell their meat, pies or broccoli (there was a lot of broccoli, I seem to remember) direct to discerning members of the public. More of the mark-up went to the people who needed it. And it was a way of giving producers of gourmet products a chance of survival.

Today, I visited Islamabad’s newish farmers market.

This is a city where some of my favourite places are the markets. Fresh fish? There’s a great shop for that. There are greengrocers where the shelves overflow with the freshest radishes and thick bunches of rich, green parsley as well as a network of street barrows, where you can tell the month from the seasonal fruit for sale. There are cheese-makers and chutney jarrers whose products are easily available. I rarely, if ever, shop in a supermarket. And most of it – if not exactly organic – is produced in a low intensity, low-input, local kind of way.

So there was nothing much new to be found at the farmers market, apart from higher prices and uncertified claims to be organic.

Quite what need there is for such a place is unclear to me, except as a means for middle-class expats and well-to-do locals to import their Western lifestyle to Pakistan.

(* A note on apostrophes. I try to avoid apostrophes wherever possible. “If in doubt, use less punctuation,” is my motto. And as far as this sort of market is concerned, it may be used, populated and filled with farmers but is it owned by farmers? No.)

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