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Philippines much to gain in enhancing ‘organic’ labeling, standards and certification – La Liga

THERE is much to be gained in enhancing the labeling, standards and certification of organic products and byproducts for sustainable, organic and ecological agriculture in the Philippines – the La Liga Policy Institute (La Liga) said.

Matched with a labeling system with clear government check mechanism for the validity of labels, the promotion of organic products and byproducts will boost trading system that will benefit both the consumers and producers, Roland Cabigas, La Liga’s managing director stressed.

Cabigas, the lone Filipino delegate in the “Workshop on Development of Standard and Certification System for Organic Agricultural Products” jointly sponsored by the Asian Productivity Organization, an intergovernmental body based in Tokyo,Japan as well as the Ministry of Agriculture of India and the National Productivity Council of India from May 16 to 20 at the India International Center in New Delhi stressed that labels, standards and certification should be developed not just for full, pure or completely organic agriculture products, but also for products of farms still on their transition to becoming full organic.

“This means developing labels and standards for products that range from organic, semi-organic, organically grown, naturally farmed, pesticide free or less chemicals,” Cabigas, also a convenor of Go Organic! Philippines.

The activity was participated by delegates, including key government officials and officers of private development organizations from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nepal, Vietnam, South Korea,Sri Lanka,Republic of China (Taiwan) ,Japan and Thailand.

Among the resource persons were Dr. A.K. Yadav from the Ministry of Agriculture of India, Mr .Gerald Hermann, past president of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM),Prof Shih Shiung Chen ,President Mingdao University based in Taiwan and Dr. Muhammad Saeed representing the Asian Productivity Organization (APO).

The Philippine country paper entitled “Enhancing Labeling, Standards and Certification for Sustainablle, Organic and Ecological Agriculture in the Philippines” was presented by Cabigas during the four day-event.

It provided fresh update on the status of organic agriculture in the country in terms of recent policy initiatives, the key players in the sector as well as trends in relation to organic agriculture certification.

The paper calls for appropriate support for farmers who have abandoned conventional farming but has yet to embrace full organic agriculture, which include farmers who are now practicing balance fertilization and low external input farming. The paper bats for appropriate labelling of products that are produced thru organic and inorganic farming systems to provide the consumers appropriate food information and proper guidance. Likewise, the paper calls for the equal application of non third party certification processes such as the participatory guarantee system (PGS) since this is more economical and more attuned to the interest of small farmers.

Finally, it recommended the crafting of a National Organic Agriculture Plan to guide the government in the proper utilization of the $21 million dollar (P900 million ) DA annual budget for organic agriculture.

Broadening the labeling, standards and certification policy to cover the bigger section of SOE agriculture practices can potentially contribute a higher value-added in terms of the over-all growth and development goal of the country’s agriculture sector – the shift towards more sustainable, organic and ecological agriculture,Cabigas said.

Cabigas said, while there is no denying of the substantial steps undertaken by Philippine government agencies in partnership with non-government and people’s organization networks in formulating an organic agriculture standard and certification process that is compliant with international standards, there is a need to review the Philippine standards on the certification and labeling of organic products and byproducts.

The PNS was developed in 2005 and it has not been updated to include more recent consensus in Asian and international standards, at the time it was crafted and finally adopted as official policy of the Philippine government.

As it is currently framed, there is, however, a very serious limitation to the Philippine organic agriculture labeling, standards and certification policies, Cabigas said.

For one, there is little mention of non-third party certification including 1st and 2nd party certification and participatory guarantee systems. While no systematic baseline exists, many estimate a bigger number of full, pure and complete organic farms that follow internal control systems but can not afford 3rd party certification and/or those who are not targeting the export market, he said.

According to Cabigas, there is a need to improve the current policy language on organic agriculture labeling, standards and certification to put equal emphasis on non-third party certification.

“Documentation of labeling and non-third party certification practices is very much needed in order to develop more comprehensive options for organic agriculture certification. This will necessitate a review of the current Philippine Organic Agriculture Act as well as its implementing rules and regulations. In particular, key provisions of the IRR on the transition period for 1st and 2nd party certification must be seriously reconsidered,” he said.

More critically, he said labeling, standards and certification policies only cover and are applicable to full, pure and/or completely organic agricultural products. As such, in the case of the Philippines, it only covers less than 1 percent of SOE agriculture production.

During a brief speech, Cabigas lauded the initiative of the government of India in providing appropriate and adequate policy support and public resources for the up-scaling of organic agriculture in the country.

Organic products, both food and non-food, is now a billion dollar industry in the India, a feat that is made more remarkable by the fact that 70 percent of India`s farmlands are considered to be rain fed.

Conference participants worked out an action plan calling for greater regional cooperation among Asian governments and non government organizations, increase public and private resources for organic agriculture and innovative promotional strategies aimed at increasing broad based awareness and support for the sector. (la liga policy institute)

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