Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Save organic from over-regulation

Just came back from Japan.

Organic agriculture as a concept is not at all new in Japan; Japan actually has contributed a lot to the global development of the organic sector. An early pioneer was Mokichi Okada who established nature farming field experiments in Japan 1935. He was later followed e.g. by Masanobu Fukuoka who promoted a kind of organic farming which was mimicking nature as much as possible. The so called Effective Microorganisms (EM) also originate from Japan. A special way of compost making, bokashi, is also a Japanese contribution to organic farming, which has spread far beyond Japan.

The figures for certified organic farming are not very impressive. In 2008/2009, 8,595 hectares were certified of which rice paddy constituted 2,810 hectares; annual crops 4,416; perennial crops 998 ha and pasture 362 hectares respectively. This corresponds to just 0.19 percent of the total arable land. The number of certified farmers is just above 3800. supervision and enforcement.

In contrast to these very modest figures, 4.7% of the farmers claim, in a survey from 2007, that they are already doing organic farming. Some estimate that the number of organic farmers outside the JAS system amounts to the double of those within the system while the member of Parliament Mr Tsurunen told me that he believes there are seven times as many, which would correspond better with the claims by the farmers. Many sources state that a considerable proportion of those that are claimed to be organic are not really following the standard, e.g. they might rotate organic crops in an otherwise non-organic crop rotation, or they might indeed use some chemical fertilizer. Regardless which figure is the correct one it is clear that third-party certification and government regulation has not unified the Japanese organic sector, rather the opposite, and that there is at least as many serious organic farmers outside the system as within.

“Until the latter half of the 1990s when the WTO regime was established they (the Government) rushed to set up rather low quality organic standards based on the Codex Guidelines and a very strict accreditation system (the revised JAS law). In doing so, they robbed the terminology ‘organic agriculture’ from the private sector, which had been taking into account the farming conditions in Japan. Since the implementation of the revised JAS law, the share of domestically produced ‘organic agricultural products’ distributed in Japan has lowered disastrously. In the meantime, those participating in Teikei and self-sufficient methods continue to work outside the market distribution framework, choosing not to use the organic JAS label.” says Katsu Murayama, an organic pioneer.

There is a fairly large number of organic farmers also in Europe and the USA that have stayed outside or quit the regulatory systems of certification. It is scandalous that those are deprived from the right to define themselves and their producs as organic by zealous (or perhaps just incompentent?) regulators. But--- in all fairness, to a large extent the sector itself is to blame for calling in the governments in the first place.

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