Workshop explores organic certification for Pacific farmers, associations

Participants of the organic workshop in Niue.

Organic farmers and producers of agricultural products in the Cook Islands, Kiribati and Niue met virtually on Friday 3 December 2021, to raise awareness and improve understanding on the principles, benefits and processes of organic certification.

Over 50 participants from the three countries were part of an online workshop to share their experiences and lessons learned from participating in organic certification, and how COVID-19 has impacted this.

Organised by the Australia and New Zealand supported Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Plus (PHAMA Plus) Program and the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) of the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Land Resources Division, the aim of the workshop was to also identify enterprises that could enhance access to high value markets by obtaining the appropriate and recognised organic certification. The workshop was programmed in a way that recognises the knowledge and experiences of organic farmers and stakeholders in these countries.

Niue Islands Organic Farmers Association (NIOFA) chairperson Maryanne Talagi said: “Organics is a key sector that is reflected and supported by the Government of Niue through the Department of Agriculture. The focus for organics in Niue is about sustainable farming where we use farming practices that protects the land and environment to make sure we can continue to grow our crops like taro for export to overseas markets. Like everything else, there are also challenges and we hope to share our experiences and learn from the others in the workshop.”

Participants in Cook Islands.

The workshop also introduced more stakeholders to organics work and connected market actors (overseas) to the organic farmers.

“As COVID-19 re-shapes the new normal’ in the Pacific, organic foods and produce are key to community adaptation and resilience in the region’s economies and livelihoods, with the opportunity to advance a more inclusive gender and people centred approach,” POETCom Coordinator Jim Pierce said.

“Through this workshop, we were able to provide an overview of the broad needs, costs and benefits, and feasibility of new or revised organic certification for producers’ supply chains and markets, more importantly how COVID-19 has impacted on 3rd Party Auditing.”

“The assessment of the benefits associated with organic farming needs to look beyond the economic benefits and to consider a holistic and systemic approach that measures and values the positive and negative impacts of environmental, social, health and economic costs and benefits”.

To understand and appreciate the value and benefits of organics, stakeholders requested support and information on marketing and branding. Through the Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) NZ, a Branding Strategist and Design expert from NZ joined the workshop. PTI Australia was also represented, providing an overview of strategies to achieve market presence and placement.

Following the workshop, POETCom and PHAMA Plus are expected to identify businesses interested in being supported through the appropriate organic certification process. This is an extension of the PHAMA Plus support to Niue, Kiribati and Cook Islands under the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus.

“Organic production requires commitment and investment – it needs to be considered not just in terms of the market opportunity but also in its contribution to a more sustainable food production systems, decreasing our dependence on high input production, protection of soil fertility, habitat protection and protection of fragile environments,” PHAMA Plus Deputy Team Leader Michael Parker said.

“We are delighted to be working with SPC, POETCom and our country partners to facilitate discussions on the potential of organic certification to enhance export market opportunities for Niue, Kiribati and Cook Islands.”

The next phase of this work will support selected businesses to determine the detailed needs, costs, benefits and feasibility of organic certification for their supply chains and markets. That support will include inputs from several organisations; hence it will be coordinated well to make sure those inputs add value to strengthen the organics value chains in these countries and across the PHAMA Plus countries.

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