Certification - a difficult process?
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CTA. 2002. Certification - a difficult process?. Rural Radio Resource Pack 02/4. Wageningen, The Netherlands: CTA.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/57422
An organic vegetable exporter from Malawi explains the difficulties that small scale farmers may have if they want to export crops to foreign markets.
Certification - a difficult process? Cue: The majority of farmers in Malawi, like some other parts of Africa, do not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides on their crops - for many these chemical inputs are simply too expensive. In theory then, these farmers are growing their crops organically; could there be chance that they could sell them at high prices on international markets? Unfortunately, it is not so simple. Farm produce can only be sold as ?organic? if the farm owner has obtained a certificate which guarantees its organic quality. And as our next report shows, obtaining such a certificate can be an expensive and difficult task. To find out more about the certification process, Patrick Mphaka visited an organic farm in Zomba district. The farm has been producing certified organic produce for about six years. He sent us this report. IN: ?Many farmers in Malawi ? OUT: ? reached that ten year stage yet.? DUR?N 4?35? BACK ANNOUNCEMENT: That report was from Patrick Mphaka in Zomba district, Malawi. Transcript Mphaka Many farmers in Malawi can claim to be organic farmers. Unfortunately only a handful of them are certified as such. The process of becoming certified is too costly for the smallholder farmer. Even more there are other issues that such categories of farmers cannot easily fulfil. It is therefore not surprising to find that there is literally no single smallholder farmer who is certified. To achieve organic status is no easy task. To be able to sell commodities organically into the world market place, each grower must be certified annually, by an internationally credited agency. One of the few certified organic enterprises one may come across in the country is Gattina estate, located in Zomba district. During my visit to the estate recently, I had a chat with its owner, Mr. Arthur Stevens. What actually do they look for to certify one as an organic farmer? Stevens The organics inspectors are looking for a range of things: obviously growing your crops without pesticides and fertilizers. But the whole thing is much bigger and wider than that; probably more important as well, is your methods of growing, which include your rotation systems, improving the soil, encouraging a lot of the natural habitat to come back. The whole aim of all these farming practices is to restore and sustain the soil for the future. Mphaka Most Malawian smallholder farmers use neither fertilizers nor pesticides. Would we classify those as organic farmers to some extent? Stevens To some extent, yes they are organic farmers, but they are not certified organic farmers, so that means that they will not be able to sell their product in overseas markets as organic. This is because of the very strict classification system and methods used for organic growing. But of course, yes, they are by definition effectively growing organically, from the point of view of no pesticides and no fertilizers. But unfortunately they are not fulfilling the wider range of organic farming principles, such as the rotations and the composting and the biodiversity, which can be expanded upon by a lot of our smallholder farmers here. Mphaka What advice would you give Malawian smallholder farmers, should they try to become organic farmers? Stevens I think for smallholder farmers it would be very difficult for them to become certified, because of the very strict restrictions that are part of the organic certifying process. It is not just about the actual methods of farming, but also the record keeping and the volumes that are required to actually access international markets. The record keeping is very very strict. You have to fully keep records of all your past activities on the farm, plus produce projections for the next five years, areas to be grown, expected yields etc. That is number one area. The second area is actually the volume that can be produced by an individual farmer is not sufficient to be able to access easily international markets, so that means that smallholder farmers, if they were interested in getting into this, would need to get together in a group, and by a group I mean a contiguous group, so that means you have to have the entire smallholder village and all their fields certified. You can?t have one in the middle who isn?t because again, one of the organic principles is that organic certified land must be separated by ten metres, minimum, from land that is not certified as organic. This means that with a lot of the smallholding pattern that we have here, if you had a smallholder farmer in the middle, who was not organic, and who refused to be organic, he would impinge on his neighbours very greatly, because the separation between their fields is less that ten metres. Mphaka Having undergone all those processes would you say that becoming an organic farmer is worth it? Stevens It is worth it from my perspective, of feeling that I am going about my farming production in a way that is beneficial to the planet, if that is not a trite way of putting it. But it is very definitely a ?feel-good? factor, that I?m not polluting the farm, I?m not draining its resources. What I?m doing is I?m preserving them and I?m enhancing them. So from that angle it is very satisfying. From the point of view of whether you are going to get rich and make money quickly, no, it is not [worth it], certainly not in the short term. Anybody who goes into organic farming must go into it with their eyes fully wide open and realise to begin with they are going to be spending a lot of money on a lot of research, make a lot of mistakes learning how to do this, and eventually they will probably come to the stage where they are breaking even, carrying costs, and then maybe ten years down the line, maybe then at that stage they might be actually making some money. And I would say that I have not reached that ten year stage yet. End of track.