Building on an EU-financed programme of support established under the Increasing Agricultural Commodity Trade (IACT) project, a memorandum of understanding has been signed between “the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) on behalf of Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) and three internationally accredited organic certification bodies”, BioAgriCert, BioGro New Zealand and the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA). The partnership will allow “Pacific organic producers to export under their own Pacific Organic Standard (POS)”, using the ‘Organic Pasifika’ mark.
An earlier review by the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) “identified the lack of a coordinated approach and the costs of certification as major obstacles to the development of organic agriculture in the Pacific.” The establishment of an export certification scheme and the development of a regional organic trademark are seen as “major steps forward for organic growers in the region”.
The SPC commented that the new partnership “will enable organic products from the Pacific to be able to access international markets through the well-recognised certification pathways established by the certification partners”. For the future, importance is attached to developing auditing capacity in POETCom member countries, through close collaboration with partner organisations.
The website Pacific Islands Trade and Invest noted that participatory guarantee schemes for organic certification also yield benefits on the local market – quality improvements reportedly yielded a 40% price gain for producers on a shipment of tomatoes to a major holiday resort in Fiji.
The initial enthusiasm that greeted the introduction of certified, value-added export products aimed at various niche markets offering premium prices is beginning to be tempered with the reality of increased costs associated with the processes of certification. The costs of certification are seen as significantly undermining the value of the price premiums available, with this leading to a questioning of the net benefits to be gained.
Smallholder producers in particular face the issue of economies of scale in the certification process. Collective certification designed to overcome this constraint can, however, generate its own problems. Illustrative in this regard is the breach of Fairtrade conditions by some Fijian sugar cane farmers, reported by the SPC in an assessment of fair-trade certification in Vanua Levu: the breach led to a need for additional auditing, and hence additional costs, for all the farmers involved in the group certification.
As standards become more stringent, these existing challenges are likely to be compounded. Thus, the EU’s pending review of its organic agricultural policy – which is gravitating towards the establishment of common EU-wide organic standards (see Agritrade article ‘Public consultation of the future of the EU’s organic farming regime completed’, forthcoming 2013) – and proposals set out in the May 2013 draft food and feed regulation could serve to disrupt emerging cooperation and trade in organic products among Pacific island countries and French Pacific overseas territories (see Agritrade article ‘ Concerns expressed over impact of revision of EU food and feed controls...’, 11 August 2013).
In view of these factors, underlying production issues related to boosting productivity and to organisational and group management issues will ultimately need to be more effectively addressed if the benefits of product differentiation through various forms of certification are to carry real benefits for Pacific island producers.