Good, clean and fair food

Good, clean and fair food

When people talk about “organic,” usually they confuse it with hydroponic, farm-raised products, anything that is green leafy or anything that seems to be fresh, regardless if it is certified or comes from an accredited supplier. So what really is organic?

Our journey with organic farming and organic retailing started more than 15 years ago when we attended the First Organic Coffee Conference in Kampala, Uganda. That must have been in 2004. Right about that same time, Patrick Belisario, an organic advocate, started an NGO that would certify organic products in the Philippines. I met him and we soon traveled to coffee farms from up north in Kalinga to the south in Cavite, as he was my first organic consultant.

Fast forward to 2021 and Patrick and I again talk about our advocacy to promote organic consumption and production. From just five farms in 2005 we now have about 120 farms that are certified organic, BUT…their products are usually for export markets. Imagine the growth from five to 120!

How about products for local consumption? The growth of certified farms has been dismal, from six in 2005 to just 50 in 2020. That low rate of growth is due to low market demand. I think it is because people think anything green is organic. Anything fresh is organic. So farmers do not see the need for organic certification if it is just for local consumption.

So the target stated by Patrick in 2003 to certify 50,000 hectares of sugarcane, turmeric, coconut was achieved, but for export markets. Not local. Do we not care about consuming certified organic produce? Or are we lacking in awareness and information?

So we asked each other, why does the local consumer not pull the farmer along? Why does the farmer not care about organic certification? Even with the Department of Agriculture devoting millions in resources for organic farming and FREE certification (you can even get a grant of P500,000 for organic certification), why is there not much growth in demand?

Why do we not care if what we are buying is organic?

First, farmers are not able to market their produce directly to consumers. Because there are consolidators and since a pechay that’s organic also looks like a pechay that is not organic, they get mixed up and the farmer who spent more time and money staying organic alas is not rewarded with a premium.

Second, the government may be concentrating on the production side and not the market side of what should be a continuum. Who will market or sell organic if not the farmers who spent more resources making sure they do not use chemical fertilizers and pesticides?

What happens then? The ones who survive are small farms selling to small markets.

Take, for example, the app called Session Groceries. They state if a vegetable comes from an organic farm or a traditional farm (meaning not organic). So when I buy from them, I choose the farm I get from and then I just trust that X farm is organic while the others are not.

How do we develop market demand for organic produce? Every consumer must be aware about traceability of the produce – supermarket or retailer and back to the very farmer. QR codes could be used to show where these farms are.

Consumers must look for a mark and pay a premium or reward to the farmer for helping us have access to healthier produce.

We must look for a third party to verify and assure us that certification is important. To help the farmer sell his “better” produce and be paid well for it (fair trade).

In these days when what we eat is a big help in increasing immunity to disease, we must help the farmer market directly to us. Or help the farmers group themselves into associations or groups that espouse organic farming. Only by that consolidation can we be assured of better and healthier produce. Be it rice, coconut sugar, coffee or vegetables.

As a consumer,

• We must read and be more aware about the difference between organic and hydroponic.

• We must support farmers’ groups and buy from them or ask our local retailer to patronize these farmers who practice organic agriculture.

• We must know the difference between GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) and Organic Farming Practices. Yes, there is a difference.

• We must shift to organic eggs, vegetables, rice and coffee.

Until the consumer helps to drive demand, the organic farmer may go back to traditional ways using chemicals and pesticides and just grow enough organic produce for his family’s consumption.

So, if we want to eat healthier produce, we must play our part in the equation.

The final question: Why is the government not driving the organic movement? Makes you wonder what the powers that be are eating as their salads. Why do they not care much? I heard that in China, the biggest growth in organic markets happened when people started to get sick and did not trust their own produce. They imported organic certified vegetables for the rich and powerful.

How about us? Is organic reserved only for the rich and powerful? Or do they even know the difference between healthy food and unhealthy vegetables, rice and coffee?

It’s about time we discussed our options on what to eat and where to buy from. The farmer knows. But do we know our farmer? Makes you want to grow your own food if you do not know your farmer.

Make the choice: Plant your food, or pay your organic farmer well. I am telling you the latter is the easier and better way to go.

Eat good, clean and fair food.

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Chit U. Juan is the councillor of Slow Food (www.slowfood.com) for Southeast Asia and is an advocate of organic agriculture.

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Credit belongs to : www.philstar.com

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