Organic farming faces hurdles

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Colombia’s government is trying to stem a decline in organic farming, but it will be an uphill battle.
According to the country’s Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry, of the 50,000 hectares (123,500 acres) of organic crops it counted in 2006, that number has dropped to 35,000 hectares (86,000 acres), just over 1 percent of the 3.3 million hectares (8.1 million acres) farmed in Colombia.
The ministry is now beefing up the seven-year-old National Ecological Agriculture Program. Last December, it created the Ecological Farming Production Chain, a coordinating body which brings together organic farmers, universities, certification programs, nongovernmental organizations, among others to boost the image and consumption of these products nationally and internationally.
Luis Cifuentes, who heads the National Ecological Agriculture Program, said that by teaming up with universities and scientists, Colombia’s organic farmers could gain valuable technical assistance in improving their crops and efficiency.
While officials have not yet secured financial assistance for organic farming, they have set a goal to increase by 10 percent this year the area of acres certified through the Chain. He added that the program is working with small-scale producers, whose crops are usually destined for domestic markets. The government’s program has created certifications for products that will be consumed exclusively in local and regional markets in Colombia.
Financial and technological support, as well as improved distribution channels, will help ensure Colombia’s food security and better pay for small-scale organic farmers, Cifuentes said.
A long way to go
“Colombia ranks as one of the smallest countries in organic farming,” said Alexander Von Loebell, a farming consultant and pioneer in Colombia for food free of chemicals and genetic manipulation.
Von Loebell said the country is far from making organic farming a viable alternative.
Cifuentes does not agree, but he did admit that organic agriculture would be more prevalent if it had the same funding that chemical-driven production has. Currently, much of the uncertified products are locally consumed, such as yucca and plantains.
Campesinos’ experience
Ricarcinda Tautiva, who has been working with 11 campesino women for the past four years in organic farming in Requilina, a little town in eastern Bogota, said that sales channels are the toughest challenge.
“The main difficulty we have is selling our product,” she said. “We grow broccoli, lettuce, squash, parsley, and we sell directly to the public” in a campesino market in the capital. “But it’s not a constant flow.”
She said that the organic crops are not profitable and that they make a little more than US$500 a year, which deters other farmers from growing the crops.
“Today, the state’s direct support to ecological agriculture lacks a specific instrument,” said Cifuentes. “We have to use the normal instruments, such as credit lines, that exist for agriculture in general.”
For Von Loebell, another cause of the slow development of organic agriculture in Colombia is because the population is not aware of its health, environmental and social benefits. Most of consumers of organic food are older than 35 years, that is, people with good purchasing power.

Source: Latinamerica Press.
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