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Africa organic export drive

African farmers take advantage of niche sectors on international markets

Photo: ©FAO/Antonello Proto/UNFAO
Farmer grafting mango trees in Brong Ahafo Region, Ghana
9 March 2010, Rome - Nearly 5 000 West African farmers are now able to take advantage of the growing popularity of organic foods in industrialized countries thanks to a $2.4 million German-backed FAO programme that has helped them meet necessary certification and other requirements.

The market for organic and fair-trade products in developed countries is expected to grow by about five to ten percent per year over the next three years, offering new opportunities for smallholder farmers in poor countries. However, these farmers struggle to comply with high-level food standards in developed countries and need to meet certification requirements.

Furthermore, to enter organic markets farmers first must go through a conversion period from conventional to organic agriculture during which they tend to incur higher costs as a result of applying new organic techniques without yet obtaining the higher prices usually associated with the organic label.

FAO projects in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone helped farmer groups and small exporters overcome these challenges and take advantage of the remunerative markets. They increased their technical skills and improved product quality, which enabled farmers to obtain organic and fair-trade certification.

"Some farmer groups had never exported products before, at best they offered them to the local market at a low price. Most of them had a very low level of institutional capability, technical capacity and financial resources," said FAO's Trade Economist Pascal 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 their improved structure and organization, farmer groups are now in a position to draw up and negotiate contracts with exporters. "Some pineapple exporters from Ghana and Cameroon still see their exports increasing despite the economic crisis," said Cora Dankers, FAO's project officer. "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."

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," Liu said.

In Ghana, for example, some 30 small-scale pineapple farmers managed to increase their sales from 26 to 116 tonnes, after having obtained organic certification.


From trade to improved food security

The additional income generated through sale of certified products is mainly used for purchasing food or clothing, for paying school fees and for medical expenditures, thereby improving living conditions and food security.

The project's impact at the community level resulted in creating jobs for workers involved in the production of certified products as well as supportive services. Furthermore, the new organic production methods have also been adopted by farmers who are not members of the producer groups and some of them have already expressed the desire to join the groups.

The project also supported national networks of organic farmers, exporters and fair-trade organizations, including the Fédération Nationale de l'Agriculture Biologique (FENAB) in Senegal.