West African farmers receive boost from UN organic food exporting initiative


9 March - Some 5,000 West African farmers are reaping the rewards from a United Nations scheme aimed at helping them export produce to the growing organic food market in the industrialized world.

The $2.4 million UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) project 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, according to a FAO news release issued today.

FAO noted that the organic and fair trade market in developed countries is expected to grow by about five to 10 per cent per year over the next three years, offering new opportunities for smallholder farmers in poor countries.

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,” added Mr. Liu. “Now most of the groups have legal status, meet regularly, keep records and are now made up of 'real members' who pay dues.”

As a result of the improved structure and organization 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.

FAO said that the German-backed project has 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 has 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.