Empowering Smallholders by group certification
The southern Germany company ORGANIC SERVICES has developed software to use for group certification by computerizing the Internal Control System ICS, the “Group Integrity” system. “Group Integrity” supports self-organised groups and businesses working with small producers on a contract farming basis to better manage their ICS.
The ICS for groups of smallholders in the same area with the same crops that are suitable for exporting to organic markets overseas can be a very slow and tedious task. The importance of certification is evident when we realize that products as coffee, cocoa or tea, cotton or vanilla can find a ready market in the western world while the agricultural production sites are found in the tropics and subtropics and is done by large groups of smallholder farms.
Organic certification is an expensive exercise when one considers that usually international bodies will be involved. Inspectors may come from the country itself but extensive travel to the production sites is usually involved. For a single smallholder the costs will be inhibitive. For a group the inspection and certification costs are spread over a large number and will thus be lower. To even lower the inspection costs a group of smallholders have to unite themselves and form an organic farmers group and implement a form of internal control which in turn can be checked by the international certification body. This can now be considered as a single production unit. A single production certificate is issued for the group as a whole and for the transportation and processing operations for the group or product.
In 2003, IFOAM submitted a ‘Position on Smallholder Group Certification for Organic Production and Processing’ to the EU. This document showed the consensus reached by the global organic sector on ICS requirements and resulted in the EU recognising group certification, largely accepting all the criteria established by IFOAM. In 2004, IFOAM published a training kit on ICS for smallholder group certification. These materials are still key resources for anybody involved with group certification.
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