National organic associations, which in most cases are almost entirely NGO-based, are paving the way for the development of organic agriculture in the Pacific. Regional organisations with international donor partners are helping develop organic standards and certification.
For example, the Pacific Islands Organic Standard (POS) was developed by the Pacific Organic and Ethical Community (POETCom), which consists largely of members of national organic associations. Some Pacific products are now being exported as organic certified. However, there is still a long way to go. POETCom secretariat provided the following information requested on the development of organic agriculture for the Pacific.
What crops are being developed in the production of organic foods in the Pacific?
Most crops are now available in organic form in at least small quantities in different countries. Some are organic by default as they are being produced under traditional systems with no commercial or chemical inputs. In places like Kiribati, to protect the water table, chemical inputs are not allowed. Other products are being produced under organically certified systems where a third party inspects and verifies their organic status.
Are there any specific commodities being produced under organic systems in the Pacific?
At present, organically certified products being exported from the Pacific include beef, coffee, cocoa, coconut oil (as virgin coconut oil), vanilla and other spices, noni, and lady finger banana (fresh and dried). Samoa, Fiji, PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Cook Islands, Niue and Tahiti all have organically certified land. There may be others as records are incomplete, in particular in Fiji and PNG where some certification is done by the private sector, which is not always keen to share data.
How does the Pacific Organic Standard compare with other standards?
The Pacific Organic Standard (POS) was developed in conjunction with two other documents as a guide and baseline – the IFOAM Basic Standard and the CODEX Alimentarius. We also referenced other standards used in the region such as BIOGro and NASAA.
We are currently undergoing an equivalency process with EU organic regulations and with the Organic International Accreditation Service, to enable POS to be declared equivalent to the EU standard. We have not yet sought USDA equivalence. The EU and USDA do not recognise each other as equivalent. Thus, it is unlikely the Pacific will achieve full equivalence, but partial equivalence is possible. We would probably disagree on livestock regulations – not because POS is deficient but because Pacific farming methods are so different that the overseas requirements would simply not apply or not be financially viable in the Pacific. This was one of the reasons for developing our own standard in the first place –to recognise our unique production methods and environment.
How successful is the project in Fiji?
Until the Pacific have its organic guarantee system in place, which will happen in 12 months, the Pacific is not able to use POS for certification. However, the Fiji Organic Association (FOA) has been formed and is starting to work on building awareness and interest amongst farmers and processors. Some work has also been carried out with small farmer groups that are interested in organics, and there is significant potential to develop locally guaranteed organic production for the tourism and hospitality sector. FOA is in need of capacity building and donor assistance to get off the ground and to provide services to farmers. The organisation has a strategic plan in place and is seeking partners for implementation.
Currently Fiji is exporting small quantities of organic virgin coconut oil and spices.
What are the main markets being targeted?
Australia and NZ initially for most of the Pacific, but given Fiji’s direct air links to the US, there is a viable market for fresh produce from Fiji.
Selected products such as noni and cocoa also have market opportunities in Japan and EU.
What are the main constraints in the implementation of the organic project?
The key constraint is resources. POS cannot be implemented fully until we have the infrastructure in place to ensure the integrity of organic production. POETCom and SPC also want to ensure that small farmers benefit from POS and have access to these new organic market opportunities. To be able to do this, we need to develop strong farmer support groups at country level to establish these links and facilitate market access for smallholders. This requires resources.
Compared to Australia, USA and other major producing countries, how do you envisage organic food production from the region?
POETCom is working to have organic agriculture accessible at all levels of the farming community – not just to larger scale commercial operators. Organics needs to be ‘recognised’ at different levels, from third-party certification for exports to local-level participatory guarantee systems (PGS).
Organic agriculture is seen as key to sustainable livelihoods and to protecting our environments. POETCom is working towards having organic food widely and inexpensively available in the islands. The priority is to have foodstuffs available that are clean and safe for our people in the region.
In terms of sustainability, what are the benefits and major constraints in spearheading organic production?
Major benefits are clean safe food, and environmental protection. It also offers protection from contamination including from GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and climate change impacts. Biodiversity is also protected. There are livelihood benefits for smallholders through access to niche markets, and opportunities for value adding. Farmers are generally enthusiastic about organics as it is seen as the way our forefathers worked the land.
The major constraints include access to appropriate organic seed stock for some crops (vegetables), and the cost of certification. This is being overcome by duplicating some more cost-effective models functioning in the region. There is a lack of expertise in agricultural extension services in organic agriculture. We are working to counteract this by introducing more organic agriculture content in USP courses. POETCom has a representative from USP. Strong farmer support groups are needed to provide and facilitate market links. Education about the value of organics – not just for earning $$ but for health benefits.
What level of support is forthcoming from Pacific island governments for organic production?
Governments have been supportive of this initiative and have been involved in the development of POS. It has also been officially adopted by regional heads and ministers of agriculture. Support has come from a high level with the formation of the Pacific High Level Organic Group, which is chaired by the Prime Minister of Samoa and made up of five other heads of governments from the region. There are challenges in some countries due to lack of understanding and expertise within ministries. These issues are being addressed by including more organic content in USP degree courses and by SPC advocating the inclusion of organic farming in extension services. In some countries, agriculture ministries are the driving forces in supporting farmer groups to facilitate development of organic agriculture.
How many individual farmers or groups are interested in producing specific organic crops for export?
In Samoa, there are 350 certified farms and a long waiting list, but Samoa has been working on organics for a long time and it can take a while to build up momentum. For the first several years, we only had six farms!
What issues are important for facilitating commercial organic food production in the Pacific?
Biosecurity issues are very important. Research is needed to develop more organically acceptable treatments for fruit fly, for example. High temperature forced air treatment can be used on some crops and for some pests, but other solutions are needed as well.
Fiji exports substantial quantities of organically certified noni, but it is difficult to get data on this.
Wainiyaku Estate on Taveuni, which is currently being assisted by FACT to develop a HACCP plan, exports more than 100 tonnes of organically certified (by NASAA) virgin coconut oil each year, with plans to double production within the next year. Wainiyaku’s oil is also now being used by Pure Fiji for its body care products and re-packed and sold as organic oil under at least two different labels in Australia.