Certification
Tuesday, 08 February 2011 12:26
Third party certification is available in the Pacific Islands through various accredited certifying bodies. The majority of agriculture practitioners in the Pacific are smallholders. POETCom works to ensure that smallholder farmers are not marginalized and unduly excluded from the organic sector due to factors beyond their control such as the cost and complexity of organic certification.

While stand alone or single entities or enterprises (producer or processor) can and do apply for certification in the Pacific region group certification is advocated for small holders and different forms of quality assurance systems of smallholder groups have developed across the region with respect to the nature of the operation and size, ranging from tens to hundreds of individual producers. The systems have in common the following aspects:

  • A central body, this could be an NGO, a processor, an exporter or a farmers cooperative, that is responsible for marketing and the groups compliance to applicable standards.
  • One single certification for all individual farms as well as processing and handling activities registered within the group. Individual operators within the group may not use the certification independently.
  • Group members operate under contractual or binding membership requirements specifying the commitment to comply with applicable organic standards, permit inspection and so on.
  • Presence of an internal control system (ICS), operated by the responsible central body or an external body contracted by the central body. The ICS normally maintains files on all members of the group and inspects each members operation at least once a year. Non-compliances are dealt with according to set procedures and sanctions.

Most Organic standards specify a three-year transition period to go from non-certified to certified organic.  The time to certification can sometimes be shortened if the group or applicant can show sufficient evidence to prove that no prohibited substances have been used in or near the production areas and the certifying body has sufficient confidence in the systems and procedures in place by the production unit or ICS.

The Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom), developed the ‘Pacific Organic Standard’ (POS), for the Pacific Region which is in the process of seeking equivalence  with the European Union’s (EU) organic standard and will then pursue equivalence with Australian Organic Standard (AOS), National Organic Program (NOP-USDA) and Japanese Agricultural Standard (JAS).

Already existing certifiers such as NASAA Biogro etc will be able to apply to be accredited to certify to the POS and it is POETCom who will assess and accredit certifiers to certify to the POS. It is also POETCom that will administer the logos.

Till the POETCom’s POS is able to gain equivalence with other national organic programs and should you wish to pursue organic certification you will need to choose a certifying agency as your certifier.  NASAA, BFA, BioGrow, are EcoCert are some of the certifiers that are known to be operating in the region.

The national organic program’s of the importing countries is usually administered by the Federal Government. It delegates the operation of the National Organic Program to certifying agencies, and has an accrediting process to identify which certifying agencies it accepts. Not all countries have national regulations eg – NZ, organics is not regulated and all standards are private.

When you work with one of those agencies, you pay them to send an inspector to your operation, to audit your records and see what your procedures are, and to verify that you are following organic standards.

Your inspector will be your primary source of information on program rules and will be the person who will interpret any unclear portions of the rules for you.  Should you feel that there is a misinterpretation of the rules, there is an appeals process to follow.

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POETCom is the peak organics body for the Pacific region, and its secretariat is based at SPC with funding support from the EU Increasing Agricultural Commodities Trade project (IACT). POETCom’s vision is that Organics and Ethical trade will be the key contributors to sustaining our cultures and communities; improving farmer livelihoods, communities, people’s health and the environment in the Pacific.