Conference to highlight 10 years of growing market access for organic agriculture

Press Release
For use of information media - Not an official record
Conference to highlight 10 years of growing market access for organic agriculture

Geneva, Switzerland, 13 February 2012

Joint effort by UNCTAD, FAO, IFOAM has increased opportunities for developing-country farmers

joint UNCTAD and European Commission Press Release

Geneva, 13 February 2012 - Ten years of a public-private effort to expand the range of places where developing-country farmers can sell their organic products will be reviewed at a 13-14 February conference in Nuremberg, Germany.

High-level officials and experts, including Guillermo Valles, Director of the UNCTAD Division on International Trade in Goods and Services, and Commodities, will discuss progress made and practical means for further surmounting technical barriers to the marketing of organic products - a sector that already accounts for sales of $60 billion annually. Among other scheduled speakers are Harsha Singh, Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organization; Alexander Mueller, Assistant Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); and Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Agriculture of the United States of America.

The conference is co-sponsored by BioFach, the world´s largest organic trade show, and will take place just before the 2012 BioFach is held in Nuremberg.

A fruitful partnership

A partnership to promote global organic market access was established at a February 2002 conference of UNCTAD, FAO and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), the international umbrella organization for the organic sector. From 2003 to 2008, the three organizations convened the International Task Force on Harmonization and Equivalence in Organic Agriculture (ITF) - a platform for dialogue between public and private institutions involved in organic trade and regulation. The Task Force conducted in-depth analyses and developed recommendations and practical tools to ease the international flow of organic goods (see UNCTAD/PRESS/IN/2008/019). The partners´ collaboration to further develop and promote uptake of ITF outcomes has helped to change mindsets and the landscape of international organic trade. Examples include:

  • The European Union (EU) references the Task Force´s tools and incorporates the principle of equivalency into its new system for approving organic imports. That makes it more likely that organic produce from developing countries will be accepted for import into the EU. And it makes it easier for organic production to be tailored to local agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions;
  • IFOAM, the international organic private-sector standard-setter, now focuses on building a family of standards that meet key common objectives of organic systems, but with space for local adaptation;
  • The United States and the EU have each signed organic equivalency agreements with Canada and will reportedly announce another agreement soon. Together the three markets account for 95 per cent of global certified organic sales, sourced worldwide. The United States-Canada agreement particularly benefits developing countries because it includes acceptance of organic goods from third parties - that is, if such imported produce is recognized as organic by one country it can be sold as organic in both;
  • There is a major trend towards developing and applying regional organic standards. Such efforts are under way in East Africa, the Pacific, Central America, and South and South-East Asia. Farmers meeting regional standards are able to sell their produce in other countries in the region. Furthermore, regional standards stand a higher chance of being recognized as equivalent by other export markets.

Organic agriculture

Of an estimated two million certified organic farmers worldwide, some 80 per cent are in developing countries: 34 per cent in Africa, 29 per cent in Asia and 17 per cent in Latin America.

In addition, developing countries account for 73 per cent of land certified for organic wild collection and beekeeping. Countless other developing country farmers practise organic agriculture without being formally certified.

Organic agriculture relies on healthy soils and active agro-ecological management rather than on the use of inputs with adverse effects such as artificial pesticides and fertilizers. It combines tradition, innovation and science. Among the benefits are higher incomes, more stable and nutritious diets, higher soil fertility, reduced soil erosion, better resilience to climate extremes such as drought and heavy rainfall, greater resource efficiency, lower carbon footprints, less dependence on purchased external inputs and reduced rural-urban migration.

Some products from organic production are certified, a means of assuring buyers that the product has been produced in accordance with organic production standards. Certified organic products can fetch higher prices, typically 15-150 per cent more than conventional products, and be traded internationally in robust markets. Minor differences in organic standards and certification requirements can hinder this trade. Harmonization and equivalence - that is, mutual recognition of different standards and conformity assessment systems - are a means of overcoming these differences so that markets for organic products continue to grow.