The Jamaica Organic Agriculture Movement (JOAM) is currently developing a local certification programme, which will provide assurance to local consumers that they are purchasing certified organic products.
This is being done in collaboration with the Caribbean Regional Human Resources Development Programme for Economic Development (CPEC) Speaking to JIS News, JOAM Chairman and Lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Dr. Dwight Robinson explained that organic certification was developed in response to requests from consumers who wanted to purchase organic produce but needed the assurance that it was grown in accordance with organic standards.
The organic certification programme will be launched on March 3 at a JOAM symposium entitled: “Organic Agriculture in Jamaica: Past, Present and Future”.
Dr. Robinson pointed out that certification by United States or European organizations was expensive, therefore JOAM had concentrated on developing standards that were tailored for Jamaica and these were based on basic principles set by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM).
Formed in 2001, JOAM’s activities are focused on providing the base on which to build the industry so that it can take its place amongst the international organic industry, which is growing rapidly, said Dr. Robinson. JOAM has provided farmers with an organic farming handbook that was developed in collaboration with Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) and CPEC.
The first step was to apprise growers about organic farming, as there is a widely held misconception that this means growing crops by neglecting them and not applying any synthetic fertilizers or synthetic insecticides.
“Organic agriculture is producing food and fibre in a manner that respects the environment, ensuring that there is sustainability,” stressed the Chairman.
One of the primary rules is preserving the soil, therefore soil erosion is not tolerated and steps must be taken to develop the quality of soil. Also, the laws of nature must be preserved which means multi-cropping rather than putting in a single crop in any one area.
Pest management systems must be put in place to prevent pest levels from rising, he added. This can be done by multi-cropping or using companion crop systems. Natural insecticides are allowed to contain pest levels.
Organically grown produce should be cultivated separate from non-organically produced crops. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are prohibited, however natural fertilizers and pesticides are allowed.
In addition to these requirements, Dr. Robinson said that organic farmers needed to keep records of their activities in order to become certified.
“The recording does not have to be some high tech recording. A simple exercise book that says that on this day I did the following is fine,” Dr. Robinson explained.
Interestingly, organic agriculture also involves the issue of gender equity, Dr. Robinson informed. “For example if you are abusing your labour force or you are deliberately not employing one gender or the other, that is grounds for you not to be certified as organic,” he emphasized.
Fourteen inspectors, who have been trained with the help of CPEC, will carry out the farm inspections. These persons will operate independently of JOAM, said Dr. Robinson.
After certification, the farmer will receive a certificate and stickers that will be placed on his/her produce to verify that they are organically grown. The farmer will also receive a certification number, which is renewed annually on re-certification.
Dr. Robinson anticipates that many more farmers would get involved in this movement as the health food industry that supported consumption of organic food was growing rapidly. Herbal practitioners are also suggesting that their clients eat organic foods.
To spread the message of organic agriculture locally, JOAM held training workshops and organic agriculture workshops, islandwide in collaboration with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) during 2003.The JOAM has more than 100 members.