afrol News, 9 March - Consumers in Europe and America are willing to pay extra for trusted quality organic food products. Now, a new project helps thousands of farmers in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone to enter this lucrative market.
Some 5,000 West African farmers are already reaping the rewards from a new scheme aimed at helping them export produce to the growing organic food market in the industrialised world.
The US$ 2.4 million UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) project funded by Germany has helped farmers in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone to meet the necessary certification and adapt to the required methods to grow and sell organic products, FAO reported today.
FAO noted that the organic and fair trade market in developed countries is expected to grow by about five to 10 percent per year over the next three years, offering new opportunities for smallholder farmers in poor countries. But so far, West Africa has not been able to capitalise on this market due to lacking institutions to oversee certificates.
Entering the market not only requires a conversion period from conventional to organic agriculture – including changes from production and harvesting to packaging, certification and marketing – during which farmers incur higher costs resulting from new techniques without initially benefiting from the higher prices associated with the organic label.
"Some farmer groups had never exported products before – at best they offered them to the local market at a low price," said FAO trade economist Pascal Liu. "Most of them had a very low level of institutional capability, technical capacity and financial resources. Now most of the groups have legal status, meet regularly, keep records and are now made up of 'real members' who pay dues," added Mr Liu.
As a result of the improved structure and organisation farmer groups are now in the position to draw up and negotiate contracts with an exporter, with some pineapple growers from Ghana and Cameroon seeing their exports growing despite the economic crisis.
"One group in Cameroon, for example, not only found a buyer for their organic pineapples, but thanks to the cost analysis we did with them, they were also able to negotiate better terms with their long-term conventional buyer," said Cora Dankers, an FAO project officer.
In Ghana, on the other hand, some 30 small-scale pineapple farmers managed to increase their sales from 26 to 116 tonnes, after having obtained organic certification.
The project focused on all stages of the supply chain from production, harvesting and packaging to certification and marketing. The vital part of the project was to pay for the costly certification in the conversion period and to support better hygienic conditions to comply with high international quality standards.
"The project helped local farmers who normally expect direct financial help from institutions to adopt a more proactive attitude. Their economic situation and self-esteem has definitely improved because they can now sell their products on international markets at much better prices - something they could not even dream about only three years ago," Mr Liu said.
FAO said that the German-backed project had also resulted in a rise in living conditions and food security as the additional income is generally spent on food, clothing, school fees and medical bills.
In addition, the project had led to new jobs in the production of certified products as well as supportive services, and the new organic production methods have also been adopted by farmers who are not members of the producer groups.
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