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Eco-Controls: Why organic smallholders in Africa need the help of their buyers

by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)

Small Scale Farmer in Africa
Farmer in Africa: "Often lack the necessary access to knowledge and resources to successfully participate in the global organic market." © istock-SilvaPinto1985

For small farmers in the South, organic control according to EU rules has already been a challenge. Now, Brussels has made the requirements even stricter. In order for small farmers to meet them, they need the help of their customers.

Cocoa beans, bananas, spices or organic coffee are often not grown on plantations, but by small farmers. In order to fill a container for delivery to the EU, the harvest of hundreds, often thousands, of smallholders is collected and consolidated.

Each of them must be certified organic, inspected annually and this inspection must also be paid for. In order to keep the effort for this within limits, the EU organic regulation allows group certification if there is an internal control system (ICS). However, in the course of the reform of the regulation, the requirements for the groups and their ICS were regulated in detail for the first time and thus tightened compared to the previous control practice.

Brussels tightens the rules

Because there have often been problems in very large groups, the new EU organic regulation 2021/279 limits the number of members in a group to 2,000. All groups larger than this must restructure themselves and their ICS into units of 2,000 with their own legal entities by the beginning of 2025 for certification. They must also prove that their members spend more than two percent of their organic turnover on certification and that no one owns more than five hectares of land (Article 36 of the new Organic Regulation 848/2018).

The Commission has also stipulated that, in addition to the ICS, at least five percent of smallholders must be visited during the annual inspection and samples must be taken from two percent of the farmers. This significantly increases certification costs, especially for larger groups.

"The value added of organic farmers organised in ICS groups would deteriorate due to the higher ICS and control costs unless market prices rise at the same time," says FiBL project manager Toralf Richter. "If this does not happen, a decline in organic imports from the global South is to be expected, as there would then be a lack of economic incentives to continue organic farming."

More advice and better prices

The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) has investigated - mainly using examples in Africa - what the groups would need to strengthen their ICS and keep the organic quality of their products high:

  • More education and training for farmers as well as for controllers and advisors in the ICS.
  • More digital tools to accurately record fields and data and keep records up to date.
  • More money, i.e. better prices for the produce, to be able to afford all this, including well-trained staff.

"Organic prices are quite low in many cases because they are linked to the ups and downs of world market prices," Toralf Richter reported in a workshop at this year's Biofach. Therefore, he said, it is challenging for many groups to motivate farmers to produce according to organic standards and to pay fees for ICS management.

Committed companies wanted

It is not only the small farmers in the South who are called upon, but also the importers and processors in Germany who expect high-quality organic goods. There are examples where importers take over the certification costs or support the ICS with advice and training. But this is not everyday organic life.

The organic umbrella organisation BÖLW and the German Association for International Cooperation (GIZ) have therefore accompanied FiBL's research in Africa and now want to persuade organic importers to tackle the challenges identified together with smallholder groups. To this end they also want to make use of the projects, experience and cooperation with GIZ, such as the Knowledge Centre for Organic Agriculture in Africa (KCOA) or the GIZ Special Initiative on Training and Employment, which accompanied a FiBL project on this subject.

"Smallholder farmers in Africa often do not have the necessary access to knowledge and the resources to successfully participate in the global organic market," says Peter Röhrig, Executive Director of BÖLW. German organic companies would support their partners worldwide, but often do not have sufficient resources to carry out the necessary training for the smallholders.

"Cooperation between companies and development cooperation is therefore a sensible approach to enable the necessary transfer of knowledge and thus ensure the integrity and quality of organic products," argues Röhrig. In this way, small farmers from developing countries, who are often particularly affected by poverty, could also participate in the growth of the organic market and organic companies in Germany could secure raw materials in an exemplary way.

With Claude Blaschette as GIZ's Business Scout for Development Cooperation, BÖLW has its own contact person for organic companies that want to get involved in developing and emerging countries.



Background: How group certification works

The smallholder group has a fixed structure so that it is clear who belongs to it. Often such groups are organised as cooperatives or they have formed around a processor or trader they supply.

The group sets up an internal control system (ICS). This ICS records all members and documents all quantities delivered and sold. It ensures that the members comply with the cultivation rules and are visited once a year by an internal inspector.

With organic certification, the organic inspection body no longer has to visit each individual smallholder farmer. It checks that the ICS is working properly and that everything is documented in a comprehensible way. Only a small sample of farmers is checked by the inspectors.

According to the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), about 5,900 groups with 2.6 million organic smallholders are inspected under this system in 58 countries in the South. The size of the groups and the forms of organisation vary considerably.


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