Certification of Agro-produce: A requirement by International Bodies

In recent times, the need to have Agro produce meant for export certified has been on the steady rise in Africa. This can be attributed to the fact that developed countries demand for it. The certification of Agro- produce ranges from Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa in Cote d’Ivoire to fair-trade mangoes in Senegal and organic Tunisian Olive oil.

In a drive to generate revenue and create jobs, governments all over Africa are encouraging their respective agricultural sectors to exports their produce. But over the years there has been ongoing debate over the merits of such labels, which come from outside the continent.

labels are intended to give the consumers the assurance of product quality and farming practices but the labels’ impact on African economies and growers has been mixed. Francois Ruf, a cocoa specialist at French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and one of the industry voices describes it as “scam”.

On the positive side, certification schemes offer African growers several opportunities which includes giving them access to high purchasing power markets such as the United States, Europe, and Asia.

Abdelaziz Makhloufi, the CEO of CHO Group- a company that markets Terra Delyssa (an olive oil brand) said that “the organic label sets us apart from our competitors, as we produce a superior quality single-source olive oil, whereas they are selling blends”.

With labels, local sectors can be structured by creating co-operatives, establishing processing facilities and setting up distribution channels. ECOOKIM which operates in Cote d’Ivoire has four labels for its products- Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, AB and USDA organic- has built a network of cocoa and cashew co-operatives.

The Benin pineapple growers’ association Reseau des producteurs d’ananas (RePAB) partnered with Les Jus Tillou (a start-up) to put together a certification scheme

Wearying environmental results

Like any other system or process, certification schemes are without their own problems. The Cocoa market in Cote d’Ivoire provides an example where it was discovered that it was difficult to get cocoa farmers to comply with the environmental standards.

According to Ruf, a study involving 300 farms and it was noticed that there has been a regress in terms of pesticide which has been on the rise since the 2000s.

With other crops, organic and fair -trade certification schemes stick out as strict rules govern the use of plant protection products and require performance of regular audits which are carried out randomly to reduce the risk of fraud.

Farmers’ antipathy

Farmers have a great deal of resentment towards certification schemes as most do not earn enough to cover for their higher production and certification cost. Industry experts are of the view that the most attractive certification schemes for African growers are those that provide a minimum, realistic purchase price, a premium paid out to both farmers and co-operatives, the signing of a contract and the audit of co-operatives.

Farmers should be trained so that they can benefit from competition between various certification labels and pushing for the premiums to be paid directly to the grower instead of paying it to the co-operatives.

African countries should also demand more transparency from certification organisations and work towards development of African labels over the long term.