Growing Interest in Organic Produce
Organic farming is a term that is becoming familiar to both consumers and producers. Demand for organic food has been increasing steadily for some time, and it continues to grow, with interest in organic fruit, vegetables and chocolate being particularly high. Young farmers are particularly likely to express an interest in using organic methods. Despite this interest, and the fact that organic production has been increasing, it still falls short of the demand, creating huge potential for expansion of organic farming. Organic methods are being investigated as means of increasing production and resisting disease in citrus fruit farming. Similar research is hoping to do the same for cacao, which would enable farmers to make the most of the demand from consumers.
The Potential for Organic Farming in Ghana
Ghana has a wealth of farmland, but only a tiny proportion of this has so far been certified as organic. A study of organic production conducted in 2009 found that just 0.19% of the country’s agricultural land was being farmed organically. However, given the size of the agricultural sector in Ghana, this small share of the land represented approximately 30,000 hectares, enough to push the country into the top ten African organic producers by area. The trend in Ghana at this time was for a gradual increase in the area covered by organic production, so it is expected that a greater proportion of farmland is now registered as organic. Even so, it is clear that there are still huge amounts of cultivated land that could be used to take advantage of the demand for organic produce.
Consumer Demand for Organic Food
Consumers may appreciate the environmental benefits of organic farming, but it tends to be concern about ingesting any traces of agricultural chemicals on their food that drives them towards organic produce. Whatever their motivation, individual shoppers are taking greater interest in the production history of their food, and the companies that sell to them are changing their suppliers in order to be able to guarantee that their goods are produced organically. Consumer education about organic foods, provided by institutions like the EU in Europe and the FDA in the USA, is encouraging this growth in demand. Suppliers of specialist health food products such as organic whey tend to be particularly concerned about the health implications of the organic status of their products, but even the less health-conscious consumer is likely to encounter information about the benefits of organic food when buying products such as chocolate.
Organic Cocoa and the Fairtrade System
Cacao may be the ideal crop for increasing organic production in Ghana. Due to the demand for fairtrade chocolate, a system for tracing production is already in place, although certain adaptations to the COCOBOD system would be necessary to enable recognition of organic certification alongside fairtrade status. Crops would need to be traced back to individual producers rather than cooperatives, and it would have to be made possible for premiums to be paid to individual farmers. Even without these changes, a shift towards organic production is already occurring in some areas, with producers such as Yayra Glover exporting organic cocoa. Farmers are in some ways primed to make the change, since cacao farming has traditionally made use of some organic methods. Indeed, the use of organic fertilizers is common in all types of agriculture, since it is cheaper and better for maintaining soil quality. It has been estimated that if just 20% of the available organic material was used as fertilizer in the Northern region, it could completely replace chemical fertilizers. The main concern farmers feel about organic methods tends to be whether they will also be effective for the control of pests and diseases. New research and projects encouraging use of organic methods for controlling pests such as Capsids may solve this problem and enable farmers to make the change to certifiably organic production.
Is it worth it?
Even with proof of the efficacy of organic methods, farmers will need to be convinced that the rewards of organic production will be enough to justify the costs of certification. A recent study suggested that the current 20% price premium would need to be increased to about 30% in order to ensure the demand for organic cocoa will be fulfilled. Such a price would make it worthwhile for producers to switch to methods that can result in lower yields, even when the time lag between changing methods and obtaining organic certification is taken into account.
Melissa Hathaway is a freelance writer and full time mother of two. She gave up work in import and export in order to work from home and hone her writing skills. Always reading, she loves to get out of the house at sunrise and sunset to take her pet dogs for a walk