Organic production has considerable potential in our agriculture sector in Sri Lanka. However, the term organic has been widely misused in Sri Lanka without having very clear understanding about it. Ecological farming systems, applying compost on crops, natural home garden practices, neglecting lands without applying natural and artificial inputs can not be defined or termed as organic. Organic chemistry has no direct relationship with organic agriculture. Organic is a kind of labelling system that is granted for ecological production when the whole process is certified by an accredited third party organization.
Economy of our country is mainly based on agriculture. We have a higher degree of biodiversity among most of the developing countries and we are blessed with nature gifted most suitable climatic conditions for having sustainable natural agriculture systems. The agriculture practices that have been carried out for many years with indigenous knowledge of our traditional farmers have contributed tremendously for the development of sustainable agriculture in Sri Lanka. Many well balanced eco systems including the Kandyan forest garden system play major role in protecting environment and maintain biodiversity in many parts of our beautiful island. Once these ecological farming practices are tuned to follow an efficient management system, such lands can be inspected and certified as organic according to international standards with shorter period of in-conversion at a lower cost. Without a third party guarantee on the compliance of set international standards on organic production methods, a product cannot be labelled, termed or called as organic.
We are more health conscious than ever before and therefore we seek safe and healthy food. Organic food is the safer, healthier and as a result the demand for organic food is ever growing. As an example, United States of America, Canada, are having rapidly growing Organic Food markets reporting around 20% annual growth. In addition to that, European Union rate of growth on Organic Food market is averaging 7.8% per year. Other than that Japan, New Zealand, Australia are having relatively small markets for organic Foods but still blooming.
Organic is environmentally friendly, culturally sensitive, socially just and economically viable sustainable agricultural system that maintains an efficient management system. All the organic production methods are monitored by Inspection and Certification Bodies (ICB) that are accredited by EN 45004/45011 or ISO 65. Most of developed countries have set up the minimum requirements as organic regulation and therefore products are checked at customs with relevant documentary proofs to support the claim the product as organic. These regulations are formulated based on guidelines or basic standards provided by International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and Codex Alimentarius. An ICB being private or Government affiliated organization sets its own standards satisfying the minimum requirements stipulated by the EU or the country regulations. An Inspector visits the project audits whether the organic practices followed by a licensee or a new applicant complies with standards set by the same ICB. The ICB evaluates the compliance of the findings of the inspector with its own standards and based on satisfactory levels of compliance, a certification is granted for the products to be called organic.
A few international ICBs such as Control Union of The Netherlands, IMO of Switzerland, NASAA of Australia, Ecocert of France and Soil Association of UK are actively involved in organic inspection and certification in Sri Lanka. Certified organic products are mainly exported to Europe under EU regulation of EEC 2092/91, USA under NOP, Switzerland under Biosuisse, Australia under NASAA and Japan under JAS by limited number of exporters in Sri Lanka.
The council of EU on organic production and labelling has been changed since 28th of June 2007, but it has raised some important questions such as acceptance of group certification of small organic farmers and how the approval of certification bodies in Third countries is granted by a central body. NOP of USA has recently created a very serious problem in small farmer group certification by requesting international inspectors to visit all individual farmers separately instead of visiting 10% to 15% randomly from the whole group. ISO 62 has been recommended for selecting number of small organic farmers under small farmer group certification to EU committee but it has not yet been officially accepted.
New EU Laws Set to Boost Organic Sales
Europe’s organic market will face a new regulation on organic production and Labeling as of January 1, 2009. The regulation, issued by the European Commission as Regulation (EC) 83/2007, is expected to boost the organic market.
The new regulation replaces and orders one that set the standard for organic production in the European Union since 1991. The old one, Regulation (EEC) 2092/91, has been amended more than thirty times since its adoption, so the EC decided it’s time for new and clearer legislation.
The term organic products cover agricultural crops or food products produced according to strict requirements laid down for organic production. For instance, organic producers may not use chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Since the EU market for organic products has been growing steadily for a decade and prices in the organic sector are generally higher than those of conventional products, it is an interesting market for exporters in developing countries (DCs). Throughout Europe both consumers and governments are paying more attention to best environmental practices, biodiversity, the preservation of natural resources and the application of high animal welfare standards. The health trend is another growth driver.
The objective of the new Regulation is to simplify the rules for both consumers and producers, to contribute to transparency and consumer confidence and to help create a clear and harmonized image for organic production. The new regulation will focus on clearer and more explicit definitions of the objectives and principles of organic production rather than on technical requirements. The most important change compared to current legislation is that under the new regulation the use of the EU logo for organic products produced within the EU will become compulsory. National or private logos will still be allowed, but only to accompany the EU logo on a voluntary basis. Al products carrying the EU logo must also bear a label that says where the products were farmed.
Once the EU logo is compulsory for organic products produced within the EU, it is likely that more consumers will be familiar with it and therefore willing to buy products carrying the logo, regardless of where they have been produced. Exporters from DCs therefore may benefit from the logo.
New import regime
The new regulation will also bring in a new permanent import regime, allowing DCs to export to the EU market under the same or equivalent conditions as EU producers. To avoid differences in interpretation and procedures within the different member states, the EC will give a list of control authorities and control bodies the task of monitoring controls and certification in third counties. This will probably make it a lot easier for DC exporters to gain access to EU markets with organic products.
Importation of goods marked or labelled organic is controlled presently under 3 systems to European Union as follows. Importers in EU have to apply for an import authorization concerning importing organic products.
1) Country of origin of the producer has to be in the European Union and direct official admission is valid for member countries.
2) Non EU-member states which have provided evidence that the production methods and inspection measures in the Third country are equivalent to rules of council regulation, can be admitted in to the Third Country Register under EEC no. 94/92. At present seven countries, namely Argentina, Australia, Israel, Check Republic, Hungary, Switzerland and India have entered in to this list.
New countries recently joined EU will be officially removed from the list later on. Once a country is enlisted under Third country register, direct official admission is valid similar to member of EU. Local inspections bodies can be established in the listed country and as a result the heavy cost for international inspection can be eliminated.
3) Member state authorization of products (importer derogation)
Council Regulation (EEC) No 2083/92 amended the Regulation to enable the Government Authority with jurisdiction over organic standards in an EU Member State to authorize an importer to import products from a country like Sri Lanka which is not included in the Article 11 list. The provision is commonly referred to as the “importer derogation”. In order for imports to be approved under this method, the importer must furnish the Member State with sufficient evidence to show that:
* The imported product was produced according to organic production rules equivalent to EU standards.
* The imported product was subject to inspection measures equivalent to EU inspection requirements.
* The inspection measures will be permanently and effectively applied (Council Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91, Art. 11 par. 6, as amended); and
* The certification body operates in compliance with ISO/IEC Guide 65.
Each importer must obtain a separate authorization for each imported product. If an importer imports the same product from different countries or with certifications from different certifiers in the same country, a separate authorization must be obtained for each at a cost.
This process to license the importer to import a particular product from a particular country not on the Article 11 list is the responsibility of individual Member States, not the responsibility of the Commission. Member States and even regional authorities implement this provision differently with respect to the nature of the evidence that must be supplied. For specific information, it is required to contact the Member States.
The majority of products currently entering the EU are imported through the Member State Authorization and not from countries on the Article 11 list.
Why organic production is important to Sri Lanka.
The basic value addition by converting products from conventional or ecological varies from 30% to more than 100% depending on the product. Sri Lanka as a country with full of natural resources has a big potential to fulfil the considerable portion of ever-growing market demand for organic products in the World. Our capacity in supplying various products already grown under ecological systems for years after the conversion within shorter period of time is very high. The value addition of tea from year 1998 to 2001 purely due to the organic labelling is equivalent to the additional production of about one million kgs of conventional teas. This is definitely an encouraging indication to any Government to support Organic Sector. This target has been achieved by few organic companies with their individual effort made for many years. The Export Development Board of Sri Lanka has immensely assisted to promote organic sector in Sri Lanka by assisting the private sector to seek new markets for organic products. Some of the other Government institutes have recently launched programmes to identify the potential areas and producer groups for organic agriculture.
Other than this direct financial benefit gained from organic exports, the protection of environment has become a major indirect contributory factor of organic agriculture. The favourable influence of organic agriculture on environment protection and human health on long-term basis has not yet been scientifically evaluated in order to add economic value to organic products. Water resources and tanks are contaminated with higher level of heavy metals and Nitrates that has already created serious health problem to our community and it will continue. Government spends huge amount on subsidy of chemical fertilizers from one side and bear huge cost on health care from the other side. Disposal of litter from large scale animal husbandry units has become a costly and troublesome affair and the same litter can be easily converted to nitrogen-rich soil input and that could replace imported synthetic nitrogen fertilizers resulting in saving some foreign exchange to our country. The same can also be used in organic production when the conversion is done according to organic standards. However extreme care must be taken to prevent the contamination of heavy metal and clinical waste when urban waste is converted as soil inputs for the use in conventional agriculture. The relationship between artificial chemical usage in agriculture on the increase number of kidney patients and other health related problems in many areas has become an interesting topic to be researched.
Contribution from academics, researchers, scientist and other professionals in the respective fields has become essential in order to educate producers and consumers about the negative impact of usage of hazardous chemicals in incorrect manner during farming and processing on human health. This will anyway help to reduce the damages done for farming community in the long run. The investment required in the future to clean our soil and water resources will be very significant. Environment polluted by us today for our short term benefit will have to be restored by our next generation at their cost for their survival in the future. Therefore it is logical that the cost for cleaning the environment needed in the future has to be added to the cost of conventional production.
Promotion of organic agriculture minimizes the health problems and also results in no capital investment to clean the environment. In addition, possibilities are there for our conventional products exported to developed countries to get rejected as the maximum residue limits (MRL) and heavy metal contamination in food are higher than those of ever-reducing allowable levels in the importing countries as a result of unmethodical and heavy chemical application.
Organic labeling needs international certification for Sri Lankan products. However, the cost of international inspection attributes extra overhead cost to the cost of production and therefore measures taken to reduce COP have become a necessity. Government direct involvement in setting up a mechanism to promote organic agriculture has become a compulsory issue in order to safeguard the interest of exporters who are involved in an internationally competitive organic trade as well as the producers in the organic sector. A long-term professional approach will help to generate more foreign exchange while our environment is being protected. This will also lead to maintain a sustainable development of the rural sector in Sri Lanka.
It is important that an institute to promote organic agriculture be established with the contribution of all stakeholders in the organic field. Government involvement is more important in making policy and finding a most suitable mechanism to implement them.
Some of the main activities listed there, are setting up local certification procedures under third country registry, policy making & implementation, registration of Inspection Bodies, registration of exporters and local parties involved in organic sales, issuance of renewable permit for local sales, penalizing fraudulent sellers, introducing a common seal for certified organic products in Sri Lanka, rendering assistance to organic & health shops, rendering assistance from media to promote organic export, setting up of Internal Control System for local inspection, register all training institutes and setting up organic export villages. However it is evident that some of the above activities have been already started separately by different institutions.
It is also imperative to draw up a plan for Sri Lanka to get the recognition and equivalent status for local certification or to enter into the Third Country Registry enabling local inspection bodies to certify products as organic which will be accepted by any international community.
For that, initially the guidelines or basic standards on organic production need to be set by a standard committee and then based on basic guidelines, the country regulation for organic production has to be established by a Government Standard setting institute. Qualified private organizations must set their own standards adhering to country regulation that are accepted by a quality management system for organic inspection and certification.
Training inspectors on organic standards has become compulsory when organic standards are set only. Generic training can be done by many institutes but standards-specific training needed for internationally accepted inspection system cannot be handled without the support of professionals.
Changing basic standards that leads to regulation changes in the country needs to be handled by group of experts officially nominated as the members of the standard committee by the organic promotion institute or regulatory institute. However, the adhering to the sequence of operation or procedures is very important in order to respect international standards and to gain the international recognition for our local inspection & certifications. It is clearly seen that many events happens today without much professional guidance and this will not lead to achieve our country goals in setting local bodies for the same.
Once all aspects fall in line it will result in eliminating higher cost of inspection and certification carried out by international inspection bodies. The present situation has curtailed the development of organic agriculture among small farmer groups in the rural areas in Sri Lanka. Recognized local certification system will also enable our producers and exporters to offer organic products at competitive prices in international markets. The main benefit from lower certification cost could be transferred to the farming community by giving them reasonable higher prices against conventional market prices along with the forward contracts.
In addition to these aspects, organic food production for local market will result in generating a healthier community in Sri Lanka. Immediate regulation should be imposed to monitor the products sold under the term of organic in order to protect the credibility of genuine organic producers and to safeguard the interest of organic consumers. Therefore, the Government of Sri Lanka should take the initiative like our neighboring countries for the promotion of organic agriculture in Sri Lanka.