By Elizabeth Henderson
On behalf of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), I attended the Organic World Congress and the General Assembly of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) in October 2011 in Namyangju, near Seoul, South Korea. The new Organic Museum on the banks of the Han River made a luxurious venue for the assembly.
The General Assembly sets priorities for IFOAM and elects the World Board. A new philosophy at IFOAM emphasizes cooperating with regional groups and has established an independent farmers’ group, the Intercontinental Network of Organic Farming Organizations (INOFO).
The revamped IFOAM Organic Guarantee System now has five parts:
1. The Family of Standards distinguishes what is and is not organic and includes all standards and regulations that have passed an equivalence assessment. NOFA Organic Landcare standards have been accepted into the Family.
2. Best Practice Standards are higher and cover all aspects of sustainability, including environmental, social, economic and cultural.
3. Participatory Guarantee Systems, based on community organizing, enable small farms that cannot afford certification to collectively provide a credible organic guarantee for use in local markets.
4. IFOAM’s Global Organic Mark is a universal logo now available for a fee.
5. International Organic Accreditation Service (IOAS) provides accreditation to organic certification agencies.
Since 2008, IFOAM has been shifting from focusing on certification-accreditation and import-export trade to building local markets for smallholders. IFOAM continues its commitment to Global Organic Market Access – a project to make certification affordable for low-income producers and to harmonize standards around the world to facilitate international trade.
One of my goals in attending this General Assembly was to make fair pricing a higher priority in IFOAM’s advocacy and standards. A motion to that effect was accepted, as was a motion declaring IFOAM support for 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming.
Another motion passed urging the World Board to “promote alternative financing systems that provide a real solution to climate change for vulnerable populations and fair compensation to organic farmers for their contribution to mitigation and adaptation strategies.”
Several of us reaffirmed a 2008 request asking IFOAM to create a task force on fair trade. Also, the range of organic guarantees for farms of all sizes was discussed. IFOAM has championed Grower Group certification for a decade, enabling thousands of very small farms to afford organic certification, and in the past two years has supported Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) as well; these are now active in several countries and include Certified Naturally Grown in the United States. In Japan, most Teikei (CSA) farms are not certified organic but depend on direct relationships between farmers and consumers. We discussed ways to bridge these different systems.
A meeting of the recently organized Intercontinental Network of Organic Farming Organizations discussed climate change and its effects on water for agriculture; threats to small farmers’ rights to land, including mining and land grabbing; genetically engineered crops and corporate control over agriculture.
Organic World Congress Highlights
The IFOAM Organic World Congress attracted almost 2,000 participants from 76 countries. Side events, including the Organic World Fair and Festival, drew some 250,000 visitors.
Each morning began with four stellar keynote speakers addressing one of the four principles of organic agriculture. For example, Humberto Rios Labrada, an organizer of the organic transformation in Cuba, delivered an assault on the usual hierarchy of knowledge: “Researcher – very intelligent; extension – less intelligent; farmer – bruta.” By crumbling this ladder, the Cubans have unleashed energies that have enabled them to feed their population.
Three IFOAM board members – Gunnar Rundgren of Sweden, Mette Melgaard of Denmark and Katherine DiMatteo of the United States – challenged the old IFOAM emphasis on certification, harmonization and import-export. Rundgren said it is time to decouple from the obsession with standards; that the market economy is not the way to manage the planet; and that we need a “regenerative” economy guided by IFOAM principles.
Professor Wen Tiejun from China spoke on parallels in agricultural industrialization in the capitalist West and in China. All “isms,” said Wen, transfer surplus production from the countryside to industry. Reform in China is accelerating this industrialization by taking even more from rural areas, resulting in increased pollution and a food safety crisis. But a new eco-agriculture movement in China is training young people to go to the countryside to serve the people. To change the present course, Wen said peasants need to organize as an interest group to pressure the government. He is helping lead this movement.
Yoshinori Kaneko, one of the first Teikei (CSA) farmers in Japan, shared his remarkable story. Kaneko has been using organic methods since 1971, gradually adding more families as his farm productivity increased. He uses waste vegetable oil to power his tractor, and has a solar greenhouse and solar panels for electricity. He has trained so many interns who have settled near him that since 2009, his entire village is organic.
Pat Mooney of the ETC Group in Canada announced that the “terminator technology” that we thought had been safely arrested by a UN ban is returning. Terminator technology refers to genetic use restriction technology (GURT) – genetic engineering techniques that restrict the use of genetically engineered plants by making second-generation seeds sterile. Mooney said we need a food web with the biodiverse array of varieties nurtured by peasants, not a food chain, the commercial system of industrial production that has narrowed our food supply to only 12 crops. He said two bills being presented in Brazil at Rio + 20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to be held this June, would end the moratorium on terminator technology, and in October, Brazil will ask at the UN meetings in India for an end to the ban. Mooney called on us to stop terminator technology again, saying, “Suicide seeds are genocide to farmers.”
In a workshop called “Sharing Our Vision of Teikei (CSA) Movement in Japan,” Michio Uozumi, whose Teikei farm was 100 km from Fukushima, said that organic farmers brought food to the victims of the tsunami and helped people dig out from the flooding. In June, a group of farmers and fishermen planted trees in the mountains above the flooded area to help clean the waters and renew the phytoplankton in the ocean, thus increasing the food supply for fish. Due to elevated radiation from the nuclear power plant, Michio and his Teikei members had the farm’s soils and crops tested. One-tenth of the level of cesium in the soils showed up in crops, so they continued eating the farm’s produce. Michio believes that high organic matter soils, like those on his farm, can bind cesium and hold it in the ground. He is plowing deeply and adding clay to increase the cation exchange capacity to adsorb more cesium. Because of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a lot of information exists in Japan about the best diet to limit damage from radioactivity.
Other speakers at this workshop noted the role Teikei groups have played since 1971 in enabling farms to convert to organic and to connect with supportive consumers. Of the 800 or so Teikei farms, only one-third are certified organic. Because members help with farm work, they do not rely on third parties to verify farmers’ practices.
Urgenci, the international CSA network, held workshops on member involvement in CSAs and ways to include low-income and diverse groups. Matthieu Roy talked about how Equiterre, the NGO he helps staff, has built a network of 100 farms serving 10,000 families in the Province of Quebec for a total of $4 million in annual sales. Joy Carey from Bristol, England, noted that city’s initiative to develop a comprehensive plan to support local agriculture. Bristol has six farmers’ markets, nine box schemes, six organic and whole food shops, four CSAs, four city farms, 40 school gardens and hundreds of community gardens. The various gardens can produce 15 percent of residents’ vegetables.
Shi-Yan Sina, who started Little Donkey CSA on 38 acres in a village near Beijing, China, spoke on the recent spurt of CSAs in China. In its third season, Little Donkey provides garden plots for 240 families and grows shares for 460 CSA members. The farm crew combines graduate students such as Shi-Yan, and 20 village farmers. The challenge, Shi-Yan says, is rebuilding trust and social capital in a society that has been hurtling into industrialization. In the past few years, organic has become a social movement in China. Its motto is summed up in two traditional characters: “Moderate desire, Gain Happiness.”
Several workshops covered Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), which help the smallest farmers, complement third-party certification, and empower farmers and communities. Spanish agronomist Eva Torremocha said she found the greatest development in France where Nature et Progres has functioned for many years. Its process consists of a farm visit, followed by a report, then a group decision on inclusion. An annual assembly serves as the governing body. Nature et Progres standards combine ecological production and social standards for the treatment of farmworkers. A report from Brenjonk, an Indonesian village of 2,700, highlighted the close relationship between PGS and grower group certification systems. This rice- and banana-growing village has organic standards for these crops, but also requires that each family spend its first energy on feeding the family, selling only the excess. Konrad Hauptfleisch talked about creating a PGS in South Africa to encourage local markets in a country where most organic production is oriented toward exporting to Europe.
In contrast to the wholehearted and energetic support for the IFOAM conference from the Korean government, I toured the Paldung Farmers Cooperative, located on fertile lowlands along the Han River. One hundred organic farmers have used this land since 1973 when a government-built dam flooded their former lands. Now the Korean central government is evicting them, ostensibly to eliminate contamination from the Four River watershed by substituting an amusement park for farming. The farmers have walked to Seoul three times, been arrested twice, fasted and petitioned. On their land we saw many hoophouses, which enable crop growth during violent rains that occur for weeks at a time in the summer. The farmers have a cooperative packinghouse from which they ship to cooperative stores. The government has offered them new but inferior land that is more distant from their markets.
This brief acquaintance with Korea leaves me with mixed emotions. I am stunned at the beauty of the land and the persistence of ancient traditions despite headlong modernization. Rice paddies encircle high-speed rail stations. Hundreds of multistory apartment buildings crowd against 8-, 10-, and 12-lane highways, packed bumper to bumper with vehicles. A remarkable new organic museum opened to greet us just a few miles from the land of the soon-to-be-displaced organic farmers. Visiting Korea can be a rich but mixed experience for growers.
Elizabeth Henderson is the author of Sharing the Harvest, Revised and Expanded – A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture (Chelsea Green, 2007).