Levelling the playing field: Davao’s small farmers push for second party organic certification

February 20th, 2012 by

DAVAO CITY –  Organic small farmers  are pushing for a second party organic certification to enable them greater market access for their products.

Tranquilina Alibango, an organic farmer who markets her produce every Sunday at the women managed organic vegetable bagsakan at the Calinan market, says that third party organic certification is complicated and very  expensive for a small farmer like her.

“Dili man namo makaya kay mahal kaayo. Kung ing-ana ang mamahimong paagi, dili gihapon kalahutay nga mupartisipar ang mga gagmay nga mag uuma sa organikong  merkado.”, according to her.

Alibango’s case is symptomatic of the dilemma that small organic farmers face under Republic Act 10068 or the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010.  While the Act  provides  support and incentives for farmers to  shift to organic farming,  helping small farmers access the growing global market for organic produce remains problematic.

In the international market, much depends on the certification of a product.  In the case of the organic market, this means the acknowledgement that the marketed products have been produced according to the applicable organic production standards.  Such certification may be obtained through any of three levels:  branding, or 1st party certification,where the farmer brands his product as organic; participatory guaranty system (PGS), or 2nd party certification, where a network of farmer peers certify the product as organic; and private organic marking, or 3rd party certification, where a  independent group of private inspectors certify the product as organic.

In the Philippines, the OA law only recognizes 3rd party certification. This means that only certified by an independent and accredited  third party as organic will be the  ones allowed to market and brand themselves as such. Any sale  of products with organic labels or claims without the approval of the certification body will be illegal. The same applies to imported products.

But according to Ling Castro, Policy Officer for Interface Development Interventions, the  third party certification process puts small farmers at a disadvantage.

“Getting a 3rd party certification will cost a farmer P 100,000.00 per crop.”, Castro said. According to her,  the certification is only good for one year, after which, it must be renewed. “ For the small organic  farmer who practices diversified cropping, it would be very expensive.”, she said.

“We need to level the playing field between small farmers and big farmers.”, she stressed.

For Castro and the rest  of the Go Organic Davao City, a network of organic farming practitioners and advocates,  this will entail the adoption of the 2nd party certification so that farmers will be able  to engage the international market.

Castro pointed out the experience of MASIPAG, a non government organization  engaged in sustainable farming, which already practices 2nd party certification among its partner organizations.  “The Masipag Farmer’s Guarantee System (MFGS) is an appropriate system  for Davao’s small  organic farmers to follow because it empowers the small farmers in that it allows them to participate in the certification process.”, she said.

Last week, GO DC had invited MASIPAG National Coordinator, Dr. Chito Medina, PhD , to give an orientation on the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) which the GO DC  is pushing for as an alternative to 3rd party certification.

“As an example of a 2nd party certification, the PGS  is even more reliable than the 3rd party process because monitoring is built among the farmers.”, according to  Dr.Medina.

Under the PGS system,  organic producers are certified based on the active participation of stakeholders, built on trust, social networks and knowledge exchange.  “For instance, communities can be mobilized around the clock to ensure that their organic fields are safe and healthy.”, Medina said.

It is also very much cheaper than 3rd party certification.  “In PGS, local inspectors are trained to conduct monitoring and evaluation. There is no need to pay expensive fees for 3rd party certification inspectors.”, he pointed out.

Around the world, various countries have already adopted their own versions of the PGS. Australia, India and Brazil which supply most of the world’s demand for organic produce are already using their own versions, according to Medina.

At last year’s national conference on organic agriculture , the Aquino administration had estimated that in 2012, the high potential of organically grown commodities in the world market would cost around $40 billlion- $70 billion.

“With a potential market like that, small  farmers need to take advantage of it but only if the necessary mechanisms are in place.”, said Medina.

Locally, this will entail mainstreaming the PGS model among the  farmers in the grassroots.  On a national scope, this will mean amending the OA law to include PGS as a valid organic certification process.

Go DC, which is taking the lead in drafting its own version of PGS, hopes that  this 2nd party certification will be adopted by Davao City as part of the implementation of  its Organic Agriculture Ordinance.

“If the Organic Agricultural Management Council  (OAMC) mainstreams the PGS,  this will mean that small farmers like Alibango will not have  only the Calinan district to market their organic products, but the whole world.”, said Tina Delima, Go DC member and officer-in-charge of  SIMCARRD.

“Through  PGS, we aim to make organic agriculture more inclusive and facilitative for our small organic farmers.”, she  added. (Mindanao Daily Mirror, Feb 19, 2012)