During much of the time I spent studying for my PG.Dip in Organic Farming I was very much under the illusion that you could only be an ‘organic’ grower or farmer if you were certified by a third party. Whilst it is true that to sell your produce labelled as organic within the EU you must be certified, to be an organic grower is much more than just the certification.
My IFOAM EU Organic leadership experience gave me a much broader persprective on the organic movement. Although an EU course, participants came from South America, Canada, India, Pakistan, Sweden, Holland, Germany, Greece and I represented Ireland & UK. We heard first hand accounts of how reliant organic farmers in developing countries are on export markets. On the other hand we learnt that certain countries are considered at a much higher risk of committing fraud or non-compliance. So on the one hand you want to help out farmers from developing countries by purchasing their produce but on the other hand you can see that high profile instances of non conformity can really do damage to the organic movement.
So returning to my original point. We have in the UK had good news recently about organic sales, nevertheless the number of organic farms continues to decrease. One aspect I have started to look at for my MSc thesis is group certification, which looks like being included in the EU Organic regulation overhaul. This would allow groups of smaller producers to come together to certify as a group thus helping with the financial and time burden of certifying. This hopefully will be one step in the right direction towards gaining more certified organic farms.
But this is still certified organic and I feel we can take a step further in bolstering numbers in the organic movement. IFOAM have a system known as Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) which is more common in developing countries but gaining recognition in Europe. Farms under this system within the EU would still not be able to label produce as organic but instead a direct relationship is forged between the farmer and consumer. The farmer conveys directly to the consumer how they produce the food they are selling, and often opens up the farm to the public so that consumers can see first hand how their food is produced.
Having spoken to a number of non-certified organic growers it quickly becomes apparent that they closely follow the organic standards but for a variety of reasons choose not to go down the route of third party certification. Even beyond that, there are countless numbers of allotment holders and grow your own enthusiasts who choose to grow organically in their own gardens.
As an organic movement I think we should embrace ALL those who choose to grow organically under whichever banner they place themselves. We will then have strength in numbers!