One of the questions we get asked most frequently is are your spices and other products organic? The answer is YES, we are organic down to our very roots, however we are not certified as organic (certified until 2019). To understand the reasoning for this it is important to understand what organic certification means in practice for smallholder farmers in Sri Lanka.
Harvesting forest produce has been part of the cultural heritage of the land around us for generations upon generations. The forest type here is known as Kandyan Forest Garden, which is an ancient agro-forestry method designed to sustainably grow a whole range of fruits and spices in amongst the native forest trees. This practice is inherently organic and no artificial chemicals are spread across the forest – not then, not now.
So why not just get a certificate for it? Well there are a few factors:
Cost – Organic certification is expensive, especially to get an internationally recognized logo for your product packaging. This may make financial sense for large farming enterprises but it is sadly prohibitive for smallholder farmers. The impact can be doubly damaging if the initial investment (upwards of a quarter of a million rupees) is too high and then the return on the certified produce is too low. Poor returns occur when farmers receive very little of the final selling price to consumers due to middlemen extracting profit along the supply chain. There is also an ethical question here about why smallholder farmers should have to pay more to farm the way that they have always done. At Eko Land Produce, we were certified on our own land until 2019 but it simply became too expensive for us and our surrounding farmers.
Streamlining – There is a wide range of organic, quality, fair trade and sustainability certifications available. Different retailers often require different certifications and this makes it difficult for smallholder farmers who do not have direct and stable commercial relationships with retailers to know where to invest their resources. The certification process and farming controls are also often complex and not tailored to farmers with weaker English or literacy skills, which can be a significant barrier to achieving and maintaining certification.
Reliability – The misuse of organic produce certificates by some intermediary bodies is a very sad reality. Corruption in supply chains further disadvantages the farmers and undermines their hard work and investment in achieving certification.
ARE WE ORGANIC?
We are confident in the organic status of all our products and are happy to arrange pesticide testing prior to establishing sales relationships. We also believe that the best way to grow trusting relationships with our customers is for them to see the forest and meet the farmers for themselves. We extend a warm invitation to interested parties to visit us in the forest.
In terms of the future of certification, we call for the development of a new cost model for certifications that reflects the realities of smallholder farming and the importance of these farmers as stewards of our forests. This framework must also be streamlined and robust to ensure farmers gain their fair share of the financial benefits.