Organic certification is a written assurance given by an independent third party about the production methodology and quality of products to conform to special requirements. In other words, it is a written guarantee issued by independent certifying body (CB) and it officially states that the production process or product complies with certain standards. Certification has been a powerful tool for creating trust, and, thereby, markets for organic products. The main purpose of certification is to give the consumers confidence that the products they buy as organic, actually are organically produced. But there are also other benefits of certification.
1. Certification brings opportunities for protection of local resources, improvement of producers and consumers’ health and eventually raising living condition of people.
2. Production planning: Certification requires the producers to have documentation and production planning. This can make the production more efficient and profitable.
3. Facilitation of marketing and extension: The data collected in the process of certification can be very useful for market planning as well as for extension and research.
4. Certification creates transparency: There is a basic principle of transparency that requires certification programs to make public who is certified and what products are certified. This transparency facilitates direct contacts between producers and consumers/buyers, and unnecessary middlemen lose power they have had based on access to information.
5. Certification improves the “image” of organic agriculture in the society as a whole and increases the credibility and the visibility of the organic movement.
6. Certification can also facilitate the introduction of special support schemes for organic agriculture, since it defines a group of producers to support. Without certification it is difficult to implement special support for organic farms.
However in some situations, certification is an unnecessary, complicated and costly system. In the end, what matters is the consumers’ trust on the product that they buy, and if they can do it without certification that may be as good. There are also alternative forms for verification, often based on the active participation of consumers and producers, e.g. participatory guarantee systems (PGS) and Internal Control System (ICS).
It is important to understand why and when does organic agriculture production need certification. Certification is a market instrument. It enables the producers to access a special market, often with a premium price. In many cases, the only way to create or maintain a separate “Organic market” is through certification. However all early markets in industrial countries developed without formal certification (Grolink 2009).
In general one could say that the need of certification develops under conditions where there is a “distance” between producers and consumers. The closer they are to each other, the less need is there for certification. This “distance” need not necessarily be geographic. It can be due to ways of distribution, economical realities or even cultural conditions.
The certification is not free from threats and challenges. Organic production takes place under different conditions and norms. The demanding nature of regulatory requirements makes certification more difficult as well as expensive especially in developing market and export certification. Due to the lack of recognition and common understanding on standards/regulations among GOs and NGOs and markets, certification of international product chain has become a complicated and cost burdensome service to operators and consumers (B.Rana Bhat).
However in recent days key stakeholders of the respective regions have been involved in developing a plan for harmonization and equivalence of the standard, so for 12 Asian countries. It is envisioned that by doing so the above issues can be addressed to a great extent and that the Asia regional standard will function as a basis for equivalence among standards in the region, and could be adopted as a local standard where none currently exists.
From the available data, in Nepal, approximately 28000 hectares of land is certified organic which includes cultivated crop land plus wild collection area. In most of the mountain regions of Nepal, farmers have been practicing traditional farming systems, and thus there has never been any use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides nor the application of conventional method of agriculture. In other words, the farms in such areas are naturally organic, the size covered by such land is in addition to the above.
In the Nepalese context, broadly in order to employ long term ecological systems based organic management, there exists a National Technical Standards and Guidelines for Organic Production and Processing System which was approved by the Government of Nepal in March 2009. Currently the private certifying bodies such as Organic Certification Nepal (OCN) are executing this standard in the certification process of the farms that follow a set of procedures. OCN is the first Nepalese private initiative that has the objective of certifying organic products, processes and inputs with international standards. It is important that the government promote strengthening of such private CB rather than setting up its own, by providing enabling environment as required.
It is also encouraging that positive development is taking place, particularly the establishment of Certification Alliance where OCN is also one of the members out of 9 CBs. There is a greater need of such partnership between local and international certification bodies, inspectors, and supporting development organizations, with the aim to offer a low cost one stop service for organic producers seeking local and international certification for organic products.
The author is the chairman of Organic World and Fair Future (OWF) Pvt. Ltd. Katmandu