Consumers are more interested in buying organic products than ever before — so much, in fact, that American consumer spending, according to the Organic Trade Association, exceeded $39 billion on organic foods in 2014. That’s right, billion with a B!
We all know the demand is there, but what is driving that consumer demand? An NPR-Thomson Reuters health poll showed that 36 percent of consumers polled are choosing to buy organic to support local farmers while 38 are concerned about toxins and chemicals in their food. Consumers clearly have concerns about artificial fertilizers and pesticides and the effect they have on the environment. In addition, people are concerned with what they put in their bodies, and more importantly what they put into their children’s bodies. The poll also emphasizes consumers are almost equally concerned about buying local.
Join the Movement
Well how do you tap into this market? One option is to grow market fruits and vegetables. There are plenty of growers jumping into this space. This is a way for growers to utilize greenhouse space in the winter or just supplement spring offerings. But, the most common way to access this lucrative organic wave is to grow finished containers destined for consumer’s gardens. Many consumers want to grow their own food at least as a novelty. According to the National Gardening Association, 35 percent of households in America are growing some of their own food, this is a 17 percent increase in five years. And Millennials are leading that charge with spending up to 63 percent in that same five years.
In many cases, a premium of 10 to 20 percent can be added on to the price of vegetable plants, fresh market produce or herbs just because they are labeled “organic.” But the access to USDA certified organic material is limited for end consumers. What is USDA organic certification? In the words of the USDA:
Organic certification verifies that your farm or handling facility complies with the USDA organic regulations. This certification allows you to sell, label and represent your products as organic. Most farms and businesses that grow, handle or process organic products must be certified. Certification allows you to call your product “organic” and to use the USDA seal.
This certification is required to label an item as “organic” and capitalize on these premium price points. In addition, this product draws a different type of consumer than the traditional gardener.
So here is where we insert the title of this article, becoming “certified organic” … it’s not as hard as you might think! Let’s keep things simple — below is your checklist for organic certification through the National Organic Program (NOP). From registration and inputs to equipment and harvests, these ten steps outline everything that finish growers need to earn organic certification.
1. Register as an organic producer with the department of agriculture within the state in which your operation is located. If your gross sales are greater than $5,000, you must also register with a second certifier. Visit the National Organic Program website for a list of USDA-accredited certifying agents.
2. Make a map that breaks down production areas into blocks that can be cross referenced with planting and harvesting records. It is very important that these maps are updated and that separation is maintained.
3. Verify that all inputs you use (fertilizers, plugs, seeds, pesticides, soil) are NOP compliant. This means they must be listed in one of the following:
4. Keep copies of receipts of all products purchased. This is very important because you can lose your certification just by using a product that you have not verified. This is the responsibility of the grower, not the certification company.
5. Verify that all plugs, young plants and seeds are certified organic, or you must be able to verify that they were grown according to the certified organic standards.
a. Keep accurate records of all plants.
b. Log greenhouse activities: transplanting, soil use, fertilizers, chemical applications, trimming, etc.
6. Pest control. Keep a record of all pest control methods and materials you use. Verify these inputs are NOP certified. For states with 100 percent reporting of pesticide use, you already have this.
7. Equipment. If you use equipment that was previously used in a non-organic area, or if you rent equipment, you must clean it and keep a record that it was cleaned before use in your organic production. This includes carts, tools, seeders, etc. In most cases, it is easier to maintain separate water systems, to ensure no nonorganic fertilizer, separate carts and separate tools and sprayers. In some cases you can box organic and nonorganic product together, as long as the organic product is on top.
8. Harvest. Maintain a log of all production and/or harvested products.
9. Maintain records of all sales. If there is a problem or question there must be traceability from shipping all the way back through your production cycle. A barcoding system facilitates this easily, but is not compulsory.
10. Make sure your labels are compliant with the NOP standards. Send proof to your certification company prior to printing.
As mentioned above, record keeping is the key to certification and also the yearly re-certification. The certifying agent will review records and conduct an onsite inspection yearly before reissuing your organic certificate. Your production team must to be on board with the protocols, record keeping and everyone in the operation needs to understand the requirements in order to be successful.
Other Considerations: Results From a Study Done Abroad
It is difficult to assess the likelihood of success in organic agriculture. Several concerns need to be born in mind when evaluating the feasibility of organic agriculture in a given environment. These factors include:
- parameters reflecting greater “sustainability” do not necessarily imply organic practices;
- in practice, it will often be difficult to differentiate between the effect of different factors on a farming system, as the introduction of organic management could be not the only change at the time (for example, several years with very (un)favorable weather conditions);
- some parameters (such as yield) need to be averaged over a number of years, as factors other than the management system influence variability between years (for example, weather);
- benchmark figures, which indicate the conditions before a change occurs in a system, are not always available. In such cases, they must be obtained before organic management is adopted but this is not always possible (especially when resources are scarce);
- many of the changes may be observable only in the long-term, such as changes in yield or soil;
- because organic agriculture is such an under-researched area, conditions which initially seem difficult may be easy to cope with after some experience has been gained, and vice versa; and
- those who have no experience in thinking within the context of organic agriculture are not likely to be able to judge possibilities in organic agriculture accurately.
Success in organic agriculture also depends greatly on local conditions. Organic agriculture is a production system which tries to create conditions such that problems with soil fertility and pest management are prevented, in order to optimize present and future output. One of the main characteristics of organic agriculture is the use of local resources to achieve this aim (including on-farm biological processes such as availability of pest predators or soil fungi which make nutrients more accessible to the plant). In Box 1 several individual techniques are listed but these can obviously be combined in many ways, with different weights on individual techniques. As potential agricultural problems, and availability of resources to cope with those problems, can differ greatly from location to location, the practicalities of organic agriculture can also vary considerably. For example, in areas with an abundance of organic material and labor, using compost as a way to maintain soil fertility may be more logical than using green manure in the rotation. This means that constraints can also differ greatly between localities. Determinations of the suitability of organic agriculture must include agro-ecological, economic, and social and institutional considerations, as given below.
5.1.1. Agro-ecological considerations
- availability of natural resources: such as land, soil quality, vegetation, access to material which can be used in compost and mulch, availability of other materials such as rock dust;
- evaluation of other resources needed, such as machinery and tools;
- suitability of enterprises, that is, crops to be grown or livestock to be raised, given the availability of natural and other resources;
- problems to be expected: which pests are common, what is the cause, what can be done to avoid them within available resources? For example, a primary pest may be avoided by planting at a time when the insect cannot complete its life cycle, even though that results in a certain decrease in yield due to non-optimal conditions in other aspects such as heat; a secondary pest could stop after abandoning the use of pesticides and natural predators return;
- total production of all enterprises, not only of the main enterprise; yield difference in good and bad years (that is, yield variability).
5.1.2. Economic considerations
- labor requirements (quantity and timing of labor);
- total net return, that is, income (or use) from main crop and other crops and livestock, minus the cost of the inputs used for the production;
- long-term productivity: the effect of present production on the soil and implications for future yields;
- marketing possibilities: in times when consumers are willing to pay a premium, improved marketing possibilities should be taken into account when production decisions are made.
Suitability of a system (such as organic agriculture) depends on its profitability, if that concept includes all aspects which affect the farmer’s welfare. For example, low return of a marketable crop as compared with another farming system may mean very little if inputs are also low, or if the farmer can harvest other products which can be grown simultaneously in the one system, but not in the other (such as fish with irrigated rice when no pesticides are used). In addition, relative incomes can change drastically with changing input or output prices. A pest problem may be managed easily in one area where a predator is present and be a major problem in a different area where no such solution is available (such as changing planting dates). One opinion is that organic agriculture is only possible where the soil is high in organic content, yet successful organic farms can be found on all kinds of soils, including infertile soils. In other words, although it is likely that some conditions are easier for organic farmers to handle than others, at present it is not clear what exactly those conditions are which make it inadvisable for farmers to adopt an organic management system.
5.1.3. Social and institutional constraints
Respondents to a survey amongst European researchers in organic agriculture mentioned that constraints for the advancement of research in organic agriculture were institutional rather than technical (Wynen (1997). In other words, technical problems were seen as being surmountable. Gabriel (1994) came to a similar conclusion during a workshop with researchers in sustainable agriculture in the USA. The most important institutional considerations include:
- belief systems: possibly, the single biggest constraint to the development of organic agriculture is that most people in all kinds of areas, including scientists, researchers, extension officers and politicians strongly believe that organic agriculture is not a feasible option to improve food security. For this reason, very few farmers can obtain information about this management system, even when they inquire about it. If those who make policy decisions on the allocation of resources, such as for research and extension, are not aware of the possibilities of organic agriculture, no positive consideration towards this farming system can be expected;
- land tenure: the land-tenure system is important in assuring farmers that the future benefits of current farm improvements can be achieved. If this is not so, long-term investments which improve sustainability will not be made;
- vested interests: organic agriculture differs greatly in input use from conventional agricultural systems. Many of the inputs used in organic agriculture are public goods (which can be used without impeding use by others, such as knowledge about practices). Hence, there is little private interest in promoting particular inputs which are used in organic agriculture;
- social obstacles: survey respondents in developed countries often mention the social isolation which organic farmers endure as a result of their choice of management system. Farmers in Australia feel that they were considered “odd” or “eccentric” and that they needed a “thick skin” to be able to withstand the social pressure (Wynen 1992). This factor is also mentioned in literature in developing countries, but it is difficult to know how important an obstacle this is in a change. Other social obstacles can include the rights of other than the farmer to use materials such as crop residuals or animal manure;
- private investment: the advancement of organic agriculture to date has to a large extent been due to private investment. This has been in the form of consumers’ willingness to pay for organic commodities (price premiums) and farmers’ readiness to experiment and innovate, despite the risks involved with such on-farm research.
5.2. ISSUES REQUIRING SCRUTINY WHEN CONTEMPLATING A SHIFT TO ORGANIC AGRICULTURE
A shift to organic agriculture brings about significant change. First, the composition of the inputs changes. Together with a reduction in the use of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides, an increase of other inputs can occur, such as organic material, labor and machinery. At the same time, rotations change, affecting yields and yield variability, total production and income (both present and future). This, in turns, influences food security, and the environment. Those changes are often influenced by, and influence, social changes within the community. In all cases, farmers will want to evaluate five issues to determine their likelihood of success in organic agriculture.
5.2.1. Labor input
Labor costs are an important input in the production process. Many studies find that labor can be a major impediment to the adoption of organic agriculture. Lampkin and Padel (1994) noted that, in many European countries, labor costs on organic farms are high, although some of those costs cover marketing and processing activities. In Australia, in contrast, Wynen (1994) found that both in the cereal-livestock and dairy sectors, labor requirements on organic and non-organic establishments were not different.
Projects in the UNDP study (1992) showed labor requirements to be high on some organic farms, especially on plantations, as well as on those organic farms where labor-intensive methods were used, such as composting. In cases with a high opportunity cost for labor (such as on plantations), higher total costs in the organic projects were seen. In some cases, labor and total costs were lower on private organic farms. For example, Warf (1993) found that median labor used on the seven Indian organic farms was lower than on the non-organic farms. However, that was by no means true of all projects in which individual farmers were involved.
If compared to large-scale mechanized agricultural systems, organic systems appear more labor-intensive. This is especially true in areas with low ecological potential. Many techniques used in organic farming require significant labor (e.g., Zai planting pits, strip farming, non-chemical weeding, composting). In the developed world, labor scarcity and costs may deter farmers from adopting organic management systems. This is also true for cash-poor farmers and those supplementing their incomes with off-farm work.
However, where labor is not such a constraint, organic agriculture can provide employment opportunities in rural communities. Furthermore, the diversification of crops typically found on organic farms, with their various planting and harvesting schedules, may result in more work opportunities for women and a more evenly distributed labor demand which helps stabilize employment.
The timing of labor requirement is an important aspect of labor in developing countries. The question whether organic agriculture, with its tendency for diversification of crops, brings with it a more evenly distributed time of labor requirement, is yet to be settled. However, as planting and harvesting dates are not similar for all crops, labor requirements are likely to be spread out over the year.
Another important issue to consider, however, is not the quantity of labor, but the quantity of output per unit of labor, or labor productivity. While organic agriculture is likely to generate good labor productivity, the issue of wage depends on a number of other factors.
5.2.2. Other inputs
Decreasing the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides goes together with increasing other inputs. These inputs can be bought or produced on the farm (such as manure), others come in the form of knowledge about actions to be taken (e.g., timing of planting or best rotational combinations,). In addition, the change in the combination of inputs may change the effectiveness of certain processes which influence farm output, such as the cycles of water, nutrients, energy and knowledge (inter-generational). Farmers’ knowledge of local conditions and of traditional practices are of key importance in the success of organic agriculture.
Other inputs used are seed or animal breeds, water and energy. The emphasis of crop seeds and animal breeds used in organic agriculture is on local suitability with respect to disease resistance and adaptability to local climate. Due to the change in soil structure and organic matter content under organic management, water efficiency is likely to be high on organic farms. Water scarcity and erosion of agro-biodiversity are indirectly addressed by organic agriculture since this form of agriculture relies mostly on endemic biodiversity that is resilient to local ecological stress (e.g., drought). Studies evaluating the impact of organic agriculture on water security and agro-biodiversity have not been available for this review.
In general, non-renewable energy inputs are used on organic farms. Standards for organic agriculture include environmental degradation as a criterion for acceptance of certain practices. However, there are many conventional farms where environmental pollution is kept to a minimum. In general, in developed countries, the financial cost of inputs (excluding labor) on organic farms can be lower than on many non-organic farms (see Lampkin and Padel 1994), although the magnitude differs between enterprises and countries. The difference is generally greatest in those enterprises where inputs can be readily substituted by low-cost alternatives, as fertilizers by nitrogen-fixing crops or green manure. For those inputs where substitutes are costly, such as labor cost for weeding (often in more intensively grown crops), differences in expenditure on input between organic agriculture and other systems tend to be relatively low, or costs on organic farms can be higher.
In the 21 projects reported in UNDP (1992), the input requirements generally shifted from off-farm to on-farm inputs or inputs available from nearby farms. In a number of cases, livestock became of greater importance to the farm than it had been. However, on a tea plantation, where many soil nutrients were applied, the cost was higher than on the non-organic part of the plantation.
Werf (1993) found the median variable costs on the organic farms in South India to be lower than on the paired non-organic farms, although five of the seven organic farms had higher variable costs (as calculated for all inputs, including those derived from the farm). However, some of the organic farmers adopted organic practices because the cash component of the input costs was lower on the organic farms (50 percent of the calculated cost as compared with 67 percent on High-External Input Agriculture – HEIA – farms). Other methods used in organic agriculture, generally to cope with soil fertility and pest management problems, were evident on the farms in this study. There was a higher diversity of crops and stock on organic farms (measured in number of crops per farm, number of trees per farm, and kinds of livestock on the farm). The number of techniques used to maintain soil fertility (such as deep rooting crops, use of farm-yard and other manure, night soil and compost), and to increase plant diversity (such as intercropping, hedges, alley cropping, cover crops, multistorey cropping) was also greater on organic farms.
Zemp-Tapang (1996) reported on the adoption of organic agriculture practices in Northern Ghana, in one area by an entire village. Her informants, growing mainly sorghum, millet, cowpeas, groundnuts, sweet potato and maize, stressed the importance of substituting fertilizer with organic matter (either in the form of crop residues or composting any organic material available locally).
5.2.3. Crop rotation
While not exclusively practiced by organic farmers, crop rotation is required under organic certification programmes and is considered to be the cornerstone of organic management. Agricultural pests are often specific to the host (such as a particular crop), and will multiply as long as the crop is there. Manipulation of crops between years (management by rotations) or within fields (strip-cropping) is therefore an important tool in the quest for management of pest problems, and also for maintaining soil fertility. As the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides allows the farmer to grow the crop which is financially most rewarding, not using those inputs leads to restrictions in choice of crops. The loss in (present) income through a change in rotation is to some degree reflected in, and compensated by, the decrease in input costs. Projects discussed in UNDP (1992) are a good example of the importance of a widening of rotations, and inclusion of more crops or livestock on organic farms, leading to greater diversity on organic farms.
The success of an organic farm depends on the identification of end-uses and/or markets for all the crops in the rotation, as few farmers can afford to leave fields fallow. This remains one of the most significant challenges in organic agriculture.
Lampkin and Padel (1994) gathered a number of studies on the economics of organic agriculture in many developed countries. In their analysis of these studies, it was concluded that yields on organic farms fall within an acceptable range.5 Another finding in Lampkin and Padel (1994) was that, contrary to popular belief, yields on organic farms in the 1990s were significantly higher than those on farms before the 1950s, thus dispelling the notion that organic agriculture is “going back to the past”. Part of this progress can, presumably, be attributed to new plant varieties and better knowledge on how to manipulate biological processes within agricultural systems.
A factor which can also make a difference in yields is the time and length of the growth period of a crop. Due to slow mineralization of nitrogen under cool growing-conditions, crops on organic farms have a shortage of nitrogen early in the season. However, in countries where low soil temperature is not a limiting growth factor, as in many developing countries, this factor should not prove significant. The variability of yield and financial returns has been a topic of study in developed countries. Lampkin and Padel (1994), analyzing results of several studies, found no clear indication that the management system is a major factor in the degree of yield and financial variability. They hypothesized that exogenous factors (such as climate) are more likely to be important in this regard.
A growing number of success stories are being recorded. Stable, high yields under organic management were also recorded in the Philippines, where Padilla (1991) found rice yields of 6.1 ton per hectare on Bontoc irrigated rice terraces, without the use of modern cultivars, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Ten years earlier a similar yield (6.2 tons per hectare) was recorded by Omengan (1981; as reported in Padilla (1991)). This compares with 7.3 tons per hectare in IRRI’s long-term experiments, including new cultivars and fertilizer (N-P-K:140-30-30) grown in the dry season (no indication was given about yields under irrigation).
Projects in UNDP (1992) showed a varied picture, where especially the export-oriented crops show low yields. Most of these projects were trader-initiated, and therefore possibly more assured of a output premium, so that optimal production was less important. An interesting case with relatively high organic yields was a tea plantation, where considerable resources had gone into the provision of organic matter with a resulting 11 percent increase in yield. This increase was not as spectacular as that reported in some other cases, for example in Burkina Faso, where yield increases in climatically good yields were reported of 10 to 50 percent, and in adverse years of three times that on HEIA fields.
Pretty, Thompson and Hinchcliffe (1996) show high yields for sustainable farming, defined as using low levels of external inputs. Apart from low levels of external inputs used, other characteristics of the projects from which these data originate included: group or collective approaches in production; an emphasis on farmer-centered activities and involvement of women as key producers and facilitators; exclusion of certain activities (such as temporary provisions of subsidies to “buy” the participation of local people); and an emphasis on value-added activities.
Experiences of organic production in ecosystems with low-productivity potential such as in Wardha, India, have demonstrated the potential to double or triple average yields through traditional management (Chetana-Vikas, 1996). The results are of course due to very low initial yields on these lands but such conditions correspond to many countries of the developing world. If similar results were to be achieved in the less endowed regions of the world, present food deficits could be partly resolved. In any case, increased yields are more likely to be achieved if the departure point is a traditional system, even if degraded, rather than a modern system.
5.2.5. Total farm production
It is important to discuss not only yields, but also whole farm production. The total production on the farm is the yield times the area in the different crops or that used for livestock. Usually it is measured per unit of land (hectare), but when other inputs are critical, such as labor or water, these could be judged as being more appropriate as indicators. When measuring production, one also needs to be aware of the concept of net production, especially relevant in developing countries. This refers to the production net of specific inputs, such as the costs of nutrients. It is very easy, for example, to increase the yield of a cow by feeding her concentrates. The question is, however, whether it was worth the extra input. This can be determined by an assessment of the net returns to farming.6
In situations where inputs are subsidized, as fertilizers and pesticides have been in a number of developing countries, the financial returns on organic farms may not be as attractive. Similarly, not counting the environmental and health costs of such inputs as is generally the case, means that organic agriculture is under-valued. It should be realized that, during the conversion process, yields may be lower and investments higher than at a later stage when the organic farm has been established. The net returns to farming can therefore be lower in such a period than later. In the UNDP study several of the case studies were still in the conversion stage.
5.3 POTENTIAL IMPACTS
5.3.1. Long-term productivity
Protecting soils and enhancing their fertility or land stewardship implies ensuring productive capacity for future generations. Deteriorating soil quality is often quoted by farmers as a major reason for adopting organic management, as in many of the projects described in UNDP (1992) and as referred to by many South Asian NGOs assisting farmers who have adopted the Green Revolution technologies (1996 field observations by Nadia Scialabba). It can, therefore, be assumed that those farmers who adopted organic management practices found a way to improve the quality of their soil within the new management system, or at least stemmed the deterioration. There is sufficient research carried-out to know that organic agricultural methods do have a positive influence on soil quality (see, for example, Reganold (1995); and several papers in Oestergaard (1996) and Kristensen and Hoegh-Jensen (1996)).
However, in the quest to improve soil quality for the future, probably the single most important factor to determine whether farmers are interested in the issue is whether they will benefit from the change. Security of land tenure is, therefore, an extremely important factor in this respect. If security is not guaranteed, there is little reason for farmers to invest in a method that will bring them income in the future rather than immediate rewards.
5.3.2. Food security and stability
In organic agriculture in general, and on most of the projects mentioned in UNDP 1992, a diversity of crops are grown and kinds of livestock kept. This diversification means that the risk in variation in production is spread, as different crops react differently to climatic variation, or have different times of growing (both in the time of the year and in length of growing period). This implies that, although there is less chance of a bumper year for all enterprises on organic farms (likely to coincide with relatively low prices), there is also less chance of low production for all crops and livestock simultaneously, thus contributing to food security and stability of food available for consumption. Decreases in the variation of yields has the same effect as a spreading of enterprises.
Food security is not necessarily achieved through food self-sufficiency. Consumers’ demand for organically-produced food and sometimes impressive premiums provide new export opportunities for farmers of the developing world, thus increasing their self-reliance. Although few studies have assessed the long-term potential of such market premiums, returns from organic agriculture have the potential, under the right circumstances, to contribute to local food security by increasing family incomes.
Organic agriculture can contribute to local food security in several ways. Organic farmers do not incur high initial expenses so less money is borrowed. Synthetic inputs, unaffordable to an increasing number of resource-poor farmers due to decreased subsidies and the need for foreign currency, are not used. Organic soil improvement may be the only economically sound system for resource-poor, small-scale farmers.
This characteristic of the production process on organic farms means that organic farmer-consumers are less dependent on a factor over which they may have little control, thereby increasing the food security situation. In some of the projects studied in UNDP (1992) low cash costs were cited as a major reason for starting organic agriculture.
5.3.3 Environmental impact
Organic farmers forego the use of synthetic fertilizers. Most certification programs also restrict the use of mineral fertilizers, which can only be used to the extent necessary to supplement organic matter produced on the farm. There are environmental advantages to this: non-renewable fossil energy needs and nitrogen leaching are often reduced. Instead, farmers enhance soil fertility through use of manure (although the kind and its handling has a great effect on nitrogen content and poor usage can create leaching problems), crop residues (e.g. corn stover, rice residues), legumes and green manures, and other natural fertilizers (e.g., rock phosphate, seaweed, guano, wood ash). Disadvantages to discarding synthetic fertilizer must be considered as well: energy needs can escalate if thermal and mechanical weeding or intensive soil tillage is used and, in some cases, organic farmers burn to clear land which reduces fertility. Many resource-poor farmers do not have access to livestock manure, often an important fertility component. Sometimes sewage sludge is used, which may contain pathogens and other contaminants. Finally, some areas in tropical countries may have such low soil fertility that synthetic inputs are necessary.
Organic farmers rely on natural pest controls (e.g. insect pheromones, plants with pest control properties) rather than synthetic pesticides which are known to kill beneficial organisms (e.g., bees, earthworms), cause pest resistance (e.g., in Asia, cotton is sprayed 15-16 times a season versus 5-6 times ten years ago), and oftentimes pollute water and land.
Soil protection techniques used in organic agriculture (e.g., terracing in the humid tropics, cover crops) combat soil erosion, compaction, salinization, and degradation of soils, especially through the use of crop rotations and organic materials which improve soil fertility and structure (including beneficial microbial influence and soil particle evolution). Integrating trees and shrubs into the farm system also conserves soil and water and provides a defense against unfavorable weather conditions such as winds, droughts, and floods.
Techniques used in organic agriculture also reduce water pollution and help conserve water on the farm. A few developed countries subsidize or compel farmers to undertake organic production as a solution to water quality problems. In certain areas around Muenchen (Germany) farmers are paid to convert to organic agriculture in a bid to maintain drinking water quality of the city (Heid 1997). In Brittany (Northern France) whole valleys are compelled to convert to organic agricultural management as drinking water is found to be of unacceptable quality (Egmont-Florian 1997).
Organic agriculture requires a diversity of crops and livestock. Many indigenous food crops (e.g., yam, sorghum, millet, oil palm, cashew, mango) supplanted by monoproduction of cash crops, pseudocereals (e.g. amaranth, buckwheat, chenopods), grain legumes (e.g., adzuki, faba, hyacinth beans) and other under-utilized plants, many of great value, can be reintroduced through crop rotations. This contributes to whole farm health, provides conservation of important genotypes, and creates habitats for beneficial species.
Although inappropriate management of inputs used in organic agriculture may be detrimental to the environment (such as an excess of manure or compost affecting water quality), one of the aims of this management system is to “minimize all forms of pollution that may result from agricultural practices”. Standards are, therefore, expected to reflect local conditions so that pollution is minimized. For example, restrictions on the number of livestock or amount of manure to be used per unit of land are not exceptional.
5.3.4. Social impact
The social impact of a change towards organic agriculture is recognized as an important aspect as witnessed by its inclusion in IFOAM’s Principle Aims (see Box 2). However, it has been argued that, at present, these are areas of peripheral attention, as compared to the scientific aspects of the management system. The following are some of the issues:
- the site-specific nature of organic agriculture also means that indigenous species and knowledge, so often discounted, are of great value. In many places, this knowledge has been eroded with the introduction of high external input agriculture, promotion of monocultures, and selection of “improved products.” Farmers may readily welcome a management system close to their own traditions and not driven solely by a production ethic;
- organic management which relies on local knowledge of complex interactions and variations of conditions from place to place does not favor large production areas. Organic agriculture therefore carries an enhanced potential for more equitable distribution and access to productive resources, namely land;
- engaging in organic production means experimenting new techniques, introducing different management of labor time, investing efforts in different management of space, adapting and refining solutions to change, comparing different options with farmers that have similar conditions, and making appropriate choices. This can only be achieved through farmer’s participation in research and its application. This on-farm research component can support rural communities, and generate new knowledge that will benefit all farmers;
- consistent labor needs, combined with the enhanced capacity of the land and protection of water associated with organic agriculture, may encourage people to permanently locate and thus reinvigorate rural communities;
- some of the projects mentioned in UNDP (1992) changed, together with the production system, the social environment of the workers engaged in organic agriculture, namely their working conditions. For example, workers were provided with plots of land for home vegetable production, improved housing situations and child care facilities;
- the concept of “fair trade” has long been part of IFOAM’s guidelines. It implies a concern of the buyer for social justice for those who work in agriculture, especially with regard to a “fair wage”. In fair-trade projects, traders ensure that producers receive a minimum return for their produce irrespective of the actual market price, while also other conditions can be part of the contract, such as continuation of the contract in the future. At present, certification which guarantees fair trade does not necessarily imply organic production, although IFOAM encourages fair trade projects (IFOAM 1997). Organic certification organizations favorably consider inclusion of “reasonable wage conditions” in the overall evaluation of a project;
- improving the situation of women in agriculture is recognized as an important issue within organic agriculture. However, a more structured way of action is advocated by Allen (1996). Availability of work, gender distribution of labor and access to knowledge are key considerations;
- within organic agriculture, the use of locally available inputs is encouraged, the effect on the local community of such a form of agriculture is, therefore, likely to be greater than when inputs are imported from outside the community;
- in those cases where synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are imported, adoption of organic agriculture techniques means a decrease in imports, decreasing the need for foreign currency. Although it is not clearly the case that labor needs on organic farms are higher, where value adding activities (such as processing and marketing) are developed, more labor input and a different distribution of labor can be required. The present market characteristics of organic agriculture make this more likely within this form of agriculture.