Organic markets and certification – Participatory systems but not too much romance please

Talking about the very interesting poster presentations, Tuesday's morning session started with a much striking symposium about the future of the organic market. The content of each presentation can be found online, that is why, here, I rather want to focus on the side questions and discussions that arose during the session.

The first critical point at issue coming up was about the length of a stay for conducting a scientific study and, especially, for developing statements. The chair of the session, Prof. Christian Vogl (BOKU University), recommended that sometimes it is better to formulate hypotheses or research questions instead of concrete statements and conclusions, especially when scientists are conducting a short-term project. In fact, within a few weeks, it does not seem very realistic to get an in-depth insight of any subject.

After the first two presentations, the topics shifted towards organic markets and cooperations. Pauline Deltour presented a study from Florianópolis, SC Brasil: “Short Supply Chains of Organic Food: Socioeconomic Emancipation of Family Farmers?”, showing that agricultural fairs (i.e. weekly farmer markets) present the most emancipatory (concerning high reciprocity and autonomy) potential to farmers, but, nevertheless, they are still too small. That is why the organic farmers in the region also need shops for selling their products in order to guarantee a permanency of income.

We stayed in Brazil with Leite de Souza and the research about transaction costs in an association of organic farmers in Goiania. Apparently, a biodynamic farming certification is produced through this association, which means that not every single farmer is always controlled. Being part of this association leads, in fact, to transaction costs for the farmers. As the most important sources of transaction costs, the farmers can have an idea of the time needed to go to meetings (at least two per month). They can as well understand what the big social pressures and insecurities are. For example, if a farmer shows opportunistic behavior, such attitude would put in danger the reputation of the whole association's quality produce, being therefore a potential threat to all of them. The variety of goods the farmers can produce is under control too, as they are expected to generate only "that" specific amount.

Professor Vogl warned of a too strong romanticizing of fairs and farmer markets. In reality, besides the long time it requires, this is a very hard work. Moreover, the importance of such markets is also highly dependent on the region and how well they are embedded into the social environment.

After the last very theoretical but interesting presentation about the "organic framework for imports in the EU", the discussion shifted towards more usable guarantee systems in South countries. In this concern, some paths seem to be especially useful, although they cannot always be carried on within the EU:

Participatory guarantee systems (PGS): Direct systems of group certification ensuring organic or agroecological quality on a local level. External certification and accreditation body are therefore not needed. Such a method works especially within small villages or regions trust can be built up through proximity. This system is widespread in Mexico, where is regulated also on a national level.

Internal control systems (ICS) are instead allowed for imports into the EU. Mostly organic cacao and coffee are certified in Europe through this kind of system, that controls as well the whole farmer association.

Both systems seem to be a step towards a "future of solidarity", as they strongly depend on participation and mutual help and learning.


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