Organic food: not quite inclusive for all

“Organic”, “locally grown”,  and “fair trade” are all buzz words that have come to define the most recent food movement. For those of us that can afford to, we pay more for local, organic products because “it’s important to us”.  It’s a luxury that we hope (and work towards) becoming a norm. Whether it’s the beginning of a fundamental change in the quality we demand from our food or whether it’s excellent marketing, organic food sales have sky rocketed both in the states and worldwide in the past 10 years. As of 2011, the world consumes $65 billion of certified organic products every year.

While the data on average land holdings for organic farmers versus non organic farmers is limited,  the European Commission finds that land holdings for organic agriculture are substantially larger than non-organic land holdings across Europe (37 ha vs. 17 ha). Data that suggests tapping the lucrative market associated with organic labeling is limited to those who can afford the process. Organic certification, similarly to Fair Trade, is a lengthy and expensive; two elements that can sometimes make these certifications prohibitively expensive for small hold farmers and producers.

The cost associated with organic and fair trade certification is worrisome because we increasingly understand that organic growing methods have a potential for  yields that compete  with  green revolution varieties and in the long term, help the land stay healthy, longer. This data is very exciting news for farmers in India and other developing countries that wrestle with how to produce more food on small land holdings without increasing their market dependency and environmental impact.

However, despite the potentially exciting fit for organic farming to address income disparities, environmental problems, and health concerns, organic certification is out of reach for most farmers in India. A personal example is my work with our all-natural supply chain that connects local farmers with customers throughout Kangra District. However, despite many of our farmers adhering to organic growing methods we cannot market our products as organic. They are not, according to international certification standards, because they lack the label.

I strongly believe that we need some sort of system that celebrates those that choose to grow great food with great practices. As such, I believe an organic certification system is important both for consistency and recognizing the work of such farmers.  However, I worry that the current cost of  organic certification limits the participation of many of the farmers that could benefit most.

The growth in sales for organic products is an exciting development, but in the process, we the consumers, can’t stop asking about the little farmers. Excluding their participation in organic certification doesn’t help us move closer to a food system that is sustainable  long into the future, it just reaffirms the critics that argue organic, local food is just for the relatively affluent and educated.  We can do better for our small farmers.

India has a number of interesting, ancient, and complimentary systems to more main stream organic alternatives. You can check out two here: Participatory Organic Guarantee System and Rishi Krishi. Happy Reading ( and eating!)!


A local farmer with her paddy fields
A local farmer with her paddy fieldsThanks to work at Palampur University, farmers are adopting innovative, organic techniques to grow new sources of income


Cassie believes that the search for creative solutions in sustainable development is crucial to problem solving. Her focus on India was solidified when she was accepted into the Hindi Language program as part of the Ohio Foreign Language Academy. During her undergraduate studies at Seton Hall University, she focused on Economics and South Asia both through coursework and as a student with the School of International Training in Jaipur, Rajasthan. While studying with SIT she completed an independent study project in Raithal Village, Uttarakhand on the impact of climate change on cash crops and traditional community livelihoods. Currently, she is a Network Associate with Generation Enterprise, an international non-profit based in Lagos, Nigeria and Delhi, India dedicated to assisting marginalized youth receive the business skill training and confidence they need to start sustainable, high-growth potential businesses. Cassie's passion for social innovation and food security is driven by the fundamental power of good food to nourish the individual, build community, and bring us all to the same table.

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4 thoughts on “Organic food: not quite inclusive for all

  1. Such a great read, Cassie! I learned a lot! Does your host organization work directly or in partnership on any lobbying efforts to streamline or subsidize organic certification for the small farmers you work with? It certainly seems like a huge missed opportunity that so many small farmers could benefit from certification but a bureaucracy stands in the way.

    Again, awesome read.

  2. Cassie, Devbhumi Madhu –a community based enterprise promoted by Appropriate Technology India, an NGO based in Guptkashi, Kedarnath valley in Uttarakhand has honey and rajma (kidney beans) procured from the small producers. The valley and villages have simlarity like Kangra valley. They tried to get the organic certification but had experienced the difficulty. It would be worth talking with them and find if they have figured out how to get the organic certification. I remember they were talking with group based in Bangalore to help it. Devbhumi also received the first prize last year from the Citi Foundation.

  3. Hanumant! Thank you so much for the suggestion. I’m actually looking into organizing a potential exposure visit for my co-worker to a few organizations in UK and Appropriate Technology India sounds like a great addition to the list.

    Liv, we have around 42 farmer collectives we meet with and often during those meetings, we distribute information on new/ potentially beneficial government schemes for the farmers to tap into. Himachal has a couple of really cool govt’ schemes to promote organic farming however, at least in my experience, it seems like they are sometimes still a bit tricky to access for the smallest, most remote farmers.

  4. I met some time back Seth Petcher, CEO of Shop for Change Fair Trade. They had pilot where they sold nearly 2000 Diwali gift boxes of fair trade cashew to DHL. They are trying to work with 6 farmers groups–Umang Mahila Sahiti Movement, Varanashi Organics Farmers society, Kumaon Grameen Udyog and Nageswara Cheritable Trust to offer an extended rage that includes Chocolate and chilli coated cashews, wild forest honey, camomile tea, herbs spices pickles etc. Look into FTFI–Fair Trade Forum of India– national network of fair trade organisation in the country.

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