Smallholder farmers' interests and the international organic movement
Roberto Ugás, lecturer at the La Molina University in Lima, Peru, was recently elected as IFOAM’s Vice President for the period 2008-2011. As an old friend of ILEIA and collaborator of the LEISA Magazine, we asked him about the federation’s future plans, especially in the context of this issue’s theme of social inclusion.
LEISA Magazine • 24.3 • September 2006
The General Assembly of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, IFOAM, took place between the 22nd and 24th of June in Vignola, Italy. It elected IFOAM’s World Board, and its president and vice-presidents. As a candidate, Roberto Ugás expressed the need to think about the relevance of IFOAM for small scale farmers around the world, and his election showed that these concerns are widely shared.
A clear sign of interest
This time, IFOAM’s Assembly saw a record attendance of 192 persons, representing 344 members. This was the largest member representation of any assembly in the past 36 years. Ugás states: “These high levels of participation, as well as some of the motions approved by the Assembly, are a clear expression of the interest in increasing farmers’ and southern organisations’ participation within IFOAM and within the organic movement. It also shows the need to strengthen the grassroots democracy which has always characterised IFOAM. This is not always easy, of course, as IFOAM is a federation which includes many players – from large companies to small scale farmers. There has always been a strong interest in reflecting the large diversity of institutions involved, especially considering that IFOAM’s mission is ‘to lead and unite’. This interest is only more evident now, as a large percentage of IFOAM’s member organisations come from developing countries.
“These developments, however, are not new. During the last few years, IFOAM has played an important role in promoting the participation of small scale farmers in the world’s organic trade. This has basically been done through the improvement of internal control systems, and by advocating in favour of them. IFOAM has thus been able to influence world trade – the majority of the organic products now exported from southern countries are certified, following the practice which started in Latin America. This has helped several hundred thousand small scale farmers to become certified organic. The challenge now is to ensure the growth of the movement, following the principles of organic agriculture as recently defined by IFOAM, and facilitate trade. This is to help more and more organic farmers from the south benefit from international, regional and local trade.”
IFOAM highlights that the new World Board, with members from all over the world, is “the best reflection of the diversity of a global network”. In some cases this is complemented by the organisation of regional groups, and since the last General Assembly also by the formal organisation of the “farmers Roberto Ugás, lecturer at the La Molina University in Lima, Peru, was recently elected as IFOAM’s Vice President for the period 2008-2011. As an old friend of ILEIA and collaborator of the LEISA Magazine, we asked him about the federation’s future plans, especially in the context of this issue’s theme of social inclusion. Smallholder farmers’ interests and the international organic movement group” within IFOAM. This group is expected to be recognised soon as part of the internal structures of the federation. For Ugás, this is a major step. “Not only will organic farmers have an official place within IFOAM, but, for the first time in IFOAM’s history, such a structure will be led by a small scale farmer from a developing country.”
The involvement and increased participation of southern organisations and farmers comes at a time when the considerable growth of organic production and trade is widely recognised. Some influential organisations, however, see the growth of organic agriculture as negative for the poor, arguing total production drops. “These opinions are based on assumptions, misconceptions and incomplete information. They only look at certified production, when there is clearly so much more. Therefore, IFOAM’s role is even more important: helping to let the world know about all that there is, and facilitating its further development. This is one way of including those who do not generally benefit from all the advantages of organic agriculture.
“IFOAM recognises that there is still a lot to do, but it sees itself as well positioned to contribute to the development of small scale organic agriculture. It therefore plans to continue advocacy work with governments and international organisations such as FAO. It also plans to continue with its capacity building programmes, especially those aimed at individuals and organisations in the south. This includes the further development and promotion of the participatory guarantee systems already being used in many places. These, along with internal control systems, are sure to help small scale farmers access local and external markets while contributing to stronger organisations and linkages at the local level.”
Roberto Ugás, Programa de Hortalizas, Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, Lima, Peru. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For IFOAM, see http://www.ifoam.org.