Organic certification still a myth to small scale farmers
In Uganda there has been an increase in the number of organic farmers over the last 15 years. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of certified organic farmers increased by over 300% and the acreage converted to organic farming increased by 60%. Certified organic exports increased from US$3.7 million in 2013 to US$22.8 million in 2017. In 2016 the farm-gate prices for some organic crops, such as pineapples, ginger, and vanilla were over 300% higher than those of the conventional crops, respectively. Further, ecological organic agriculture fosters biodiversity that is relatively resilient to the impacts of climate change. It depends on and sustains ecosystems as well as tapping into the knowledge, practices and innovations of local communities that can lead to increased food security and farm incomes.
On 13th October 2020, ESAFF Uganda held community sensitization meetings on organic certification and trade in 8 districts of the country during the organic week 2020 celebrations. These aimed at creating awareness on the importance of certifying organic products and the different steps of organic certification and creating awareness on the importance and nutritional value of organic products in the time of COVID-19.
During the sensitization meetings, various small-scale farmers shared experiences and inquired on the process of certifying their products. Mr. Kiwanuka, a youth small scale farmer from Masaka district narrated that he had tried certifying his products but the process and requirements for certification were too tiresome and takes long. Ms. Nakayima Sylivia also a small-scale farmer added that for her she thought that certification was only meant for large-scale producers and exporters only. “I had never taken interest in inquiring about certification because I was told it requires a lot of money which I do not have at the moment,” she said.
Ngobi Twaib a small-scale farmer from Imanilo sub-county, Mayuge district explained that the certification process is making it difficult for the farmers to sell their products to exporting companies. He said farmers had been complaining about high costs of bringing an expert in the communities to verify their farms. The cost of the whole process was very expensive for the farmers, yet you cannot sell organics without certifying them. They pay between $3,000 and $10,000, He said. He called for mainstreaming of organic certification information to extension services to be shared by the extension workers at the sub-counties.
Despite all these challenges farmers encounter during the process of organic certification, they were taken through the various steps a small-scale farmer needs to go through in order to get certifier as an organic producer. They were also reminded that compliance and consistency of the organic standards is very key if one is to maintain the organic certificate from UGOCERT.
Small-scale farmers called on the government to upscale the training of small-scale farmers on organic certification and further fast track the implementation of just passed National Organic Agriculture Policy. The National Organic Week (NOW) is an annual one-week event that will end on Friday 16th October with the World Food Day celebrations.