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Report highlights expansion of organic production for local markets in the EAC

13 June 2013

The International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) has posted a review of a series of short case studies on the impact of the adoption of organic agricultural production in East Africa.

The review cites examples including:

  • the large-scale conversion by smallholder producers to organic coffee production in some regions of Rwanda;
  • an expansion of organic farming of bananas and pineapples in eastern and southern provinces of Rwanda;
  • organic horticultural production in Burundi and Tanzania for local markets;
  • the development of organic farming in peri-urban areas of Kenya for own consumption, local markets and direct sale to organic restaurants;
  • the development of organic horticultural production in Uganda for sale through supermarkets, specialist organic shops and direct to restaurants, using a farmer-owned single marketing service.

The case studies highlight expanding local demand for organic products and the benefits gained from lower inputs costs.

In countries such as Kenya, “awareness of lifestyle diseases has increased tremendously in the last 10 years” and is boosting local demand for organic products. This is leading to the establishment of direct sales, with shorter supply chains boosting farmers’ incomes.

Some organic farmers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania operate under participatory guarantee systems based on East African Organic Products Standard requirements and using an internal peer group review process to ensure compliance. IFOAM defines participatory guarantee systems as “locally focused quality assurance systems that certify producers based on active participation of stakeholders”, with the system being “built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange”. In the Kenyan case, key customers are involved through inspection of the farming processes practised by supplier farmers. This reduces certification and verification costs.

However, “when a farmer has a particular market that specifically demands third party certification, they apply for certification from authorised certifying companies.”

In the case study from Burundi, it was noted that even where organic certification is not in place, organic production methods have increased yields and allowed producers to secure better prices on local markets, while at the same time reducing input costs.

Overall, the review maintains that the adoption of organic production techniques has resulted in:

  • increased yields through the use of more affordable inputs;
  • improved livelihoods, food security and health;
  • a reduced need for credit through the use of locally available renewable resources;
  • increased market opportunities both domestically and internationally;
  • increased resilience to climate change and environmental benefits.

It is argued that “government policies could significantly benefit from the integration of organic practices into their agriculture, climate change, food security and rural development policies and action plans.” This is increasingly being recognised within African governments, according to the case studies cited.

Government initiatives are considered necessary to facilitate access to organic seeds and pesticides, improve rural transport systems and improve cold store facilities. It is also thought that for organic production to develop further in the EAC, “focus and commitment from leaders and policy makers” are required “to develop and implement policies that support sustainable food production”.

Editorial comment

The case studies cited in the IFOAM review highlight the growing demand for organic products in East Africa as incomes increase and lifestyles change. They also highlight the role of low-cost participatory certification schemes in opening up access for small-scale producers to local markets, including supermarket chains and the restaurant trade.

In terms of production for the domestic market, priorities include:

  • a systematic review of national agriculture sector development strategies, to ensure that the promotion of organic production is an integral part of such strategies;
  • increasing support to organisations of smallholder organic producers in order to improve their bargaining power within supply chains;
  • supporting research into the production and distribution of organic fertilisers, including training of agro-dealers;
  • training of extension staff in organic production techniques and natural fertiliser production;
  • a review of the curriculums of agricultural training college to include organic production methods;

In addition, a range of measures can be identified which, while also applying to production for the domestic market, are of greatest interest to organic production for export. These include government initiatives to:

  • strengthen local organic certification capacity, in order to reduce costs of certification;
  • support the establishment of quality control/food safety laboratories to monitor compliance;
  • ensure regular inspections in order to minimise cases of non-compliance prior to export.
  • support the improvement of packaging (using sustainable packaging materials);
  • support infrastructure development immediately prior to export;
  • negotiate organic equivalency agreements in order to reduce certification costs, while ensuring that such agreements do not undermine low-cost participatory guarantee systems for the local market.

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