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JIS News

Health conscious persons interested in consuming organically produced foods, could soon find it more affordable, once there is an increase in production.
One organization behind the expansion of local organic agriculture, is the Jamaica Organic Agriculture Movement (JOAM), which has been instrumental in developing a heightened awareness for local organic produce.
Dr. Dwight Robinson, President of JOAM informs JIS News that organic produce may appear to be more expensive, as there is a larger demand than there is supply for the produce, resulting in higher prices. He informs that it is the intention of JOAM to increase production of organically grown produce, which would improve its affordability.
“At the moment people have this tendency to say that organic food is more expensive.you can’t make a blanket statement like that. It is all about economics. At the moment it is expensive because it is a simple demand and supply equation,” Dr. Robinson explains.
Explaining JOAM’s role in the development of a projected viable organic sector, Dr. Robinson says the organization was started in 2001 with the primary objective being to facilitate the development of organic agriculture in Jamaica.
“What we had happening is that a lot of persons around were doing organic (farming) and some of them did not have all the standards in place and it was difficult because they were acting in isolation,” he says.
“It was then decided that an organization should be formed to bring persons together, persons who produced organic food, those interested in exporting it, those interested in doing research to help in its development and those interested in its consumption. Thus JOAM was birthed and has been laying the groundwork since, to develop a strong organic sector,” Dr. Robinson adds.
The Ministry of Agriculture has responded to the increased demand for organic products and has undertaken to work closely with JOAM, through the allocation of $20 million over the next three years, towards supporting the organic initiative.
Minister of Agriculture, Roger Clarke has urged farmers to be a part of the organic sector, which he says, is designed to improve food production and ensure the survival of the industry. “The only way some small farmers will earn more is to plant higher value crops,” Minister Clarke told the farmers recently.
Dr. Robinson points out that the Ministry took the decision that it ought to look at organic agriculture in a serious way, and having done that, JOAM was able to inform officers from the Ministry about what is being done.
While JOAM will not be responsible for spending the funds, the organisation will provide guidance, so development of the organic sector can continue.
Once the sector starts to boom, Dr. Robinson says marketing will definitely not be a problem. He points out that the market can be divided in three main segments – export, tourism and local consumption.
“One of the largest consumers of organic agriculture right now is the United States and they are close to us, so we have that export potential. We also have the United States and the European markets here, as when tourists come into our hotels, they want to eat organic foods. And then we are not going to leave ourselves out because why should we not eat healthy foods. So we have the local market,” he explains to JIS News.
At the moment, he says the demand far outweighs the supply and hence the reason why JOAM is pushing to get the production side improved to meet the demand.
Dr. Robinson says already hotels have been making contacts in a bid to source locally grown organic produce. “We get the supermarket chains saying they want to put in an organic shelf, because they have customers who have been requesting it,” he notes, adding that there are even those who want to export as much organic produce as they can source.
The production of organic foods does involve some techniques, which have to be observed in order to achieve quality production, explains Dr. Robinson.
He says that it is a very complex system, which requires planning. “For example, if you are going to become a certified organic farmer you need to have a plan. You need to tell us how you are going to rotate the crop. You need to know what crops are compatible. You can’t say you are an organic farmer and say you plant organic sweet pepper, because that would not contribute to biodiversity, because that is one crop,” he says.
It is a close system, he emphasises, whereby if you are going to do animals you have to ensure that the animal waste goes into fertilising the crops. He also notes the importance of keeping good records. “In Jamaica we have a difficulty because people don’t like to keep records and that is what we are now trying to deal with,” he adds. He says there are persons who have applied for certification and have lost it, because they just don’t have the records.
Commenting on what types of products will be grown organically, Dr. Robinson says everything that is conventionally grown, such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, tomato, bean, carrot, and mango. Organic chicken and organic goat milk will also be available.
While JOAM is desirous of going the value added route of producing organic products, Dr. Robinson says the country does not have all the necessary organic ingredients with which to do so. “For example, if you are to make an organic shampoo and if it has 10 ingredients, all of them will have to be organically produced and so at the moment we are just trying to get to the stage where we have all these things being produced organically and then we will start talking to processors,” he explains.
He also informs JIS News that the area where processing is done has to be certified to prevent contamination and co-mingling of organic and conventional products. Currently, there is at least one processor who was ready to have his facility certified.
And as the organic sector gets poised to take off, Dr. Robinson says the farmers need to be trained, “because there are a lot of persons who are saying this is the way to go, but you realise that they do not know the techniques”.
In 2002 as part of its thrust to move towards local certification, JOAM was able to dispatch inspectors to verify that organic farmers were in compliance. These inspectors are certified through funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
With this funding, Dr. Robinson explains that JOAM was able to get inspectors from the Independent Organic Inspectors Association, which is the international body that trains inspectors.
Twenty-five Jamaicans took part in the week-long training and 13 were successful in the examination. “These inspectors can now go out there and inspect for local certification, because they are trained to international standards,” he notes.
JOAM has also been responsible for writing the Organic Standard – the only standard available in Jamaica. “We have offered that standard to the Ministry and we would be very happy if they accept it,” Dr. Robinson says.
The Organic Standard outlines what should or should not be done in organic agriculture. Dr. Robinson says that everything has to be in place for certification, before widescale production can begin. “We had set a time target but that had to be adjusted because even though someone says he or she is organic, when you go around you realise that while they are not using synthetic fertilizers and pesticide, the system is still not an organic one,” Dr. Robinson tells JIS News.
“As soon as we know that these people are almost there, then we can go and start talking to the market again, because we have those businesses which say to us whatever you can produce, we will take it,” he adds.