“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!)!