“To grow organic is to think different”

The case studies involved in this report and the video link with it come from the Banana Trade Blog produced by Banana Link. The case studies are not from Central America (which is the region of concern for this website), but the issue of organic production of bananas and other tropical produce is of considerable interest to all the producers of such fruits within the region of Central America, especially in the light of increasing resistance of pests to the use of chemical pesticides – and here we refer the reader to the timely article in Media Nature that warns of the most recent banana epidemic to reach the Americas – the article is included here in this month’s updates to The Violence of Development website. So the conclusions to be drawn from the Banana Link blog article and video are certainly of relevance to Central America.We are grateful to Paul Lievens and to Banana Link for permission to reproduce the article in this website.

26 July 2019
By Paul Lievens  – comms@bananalink.org.uk
Banana Link Communications & Policy Officer


There is a growing recognition in the global export banana trade that the prevailing intensive monoculture production model is not sustainable, and that the development alternative production models is a pressing necessity. There is a limited shelf life for a production model that, through increasing reliance on agrochemicals, creates negative impacts on human health and the environment, while also making the predominant export cultivar, the Cavendish, increasingly vulnerable to disease.
 
There are, in some parts of the banana producing world, producers, both big and small, who are pioneering viable alternative production models. Production that utilises integrated pest management (IPM) principles, that employs polyculture or intercropping practices, along with those employing wholly organic methods.
 
As a contribution to the debate, Banana Link is working within the World Banana Forum’s Working Group on Sustainable Production Systems and Environmental Impact to produce a series of case studies documenting viable alternative production methods. 
 
The first of these case studies has just been published. It takes a look at the successful development of organic banana production by Compagnie Fruitière, primarily at its subsidiary Golden Exotics Limited in Ghana (500 ha), and to a lesser extent at SCB in Côte d’Ivoire (100 ha) and Finca la Valentina in Ecuador (150 ha).
 
We have produced this case study, as we also intend with elements of subsequent case studies, in video format, which you can view at the foot of this article. The video isn’t intended to rehearse the arguments in favour of organic production. I don’t think anyone would argue with the reduction in the negative impact on human health, the environment and ecosystems that results from switching from chemically reliant to organic production. But what people do want to know is whether organic production is viable, sustainable and profitable, and if so, how it is achieved.
 
So, in the video we take a look at the technical challenges of organic production, including management of pests, diseases and water resources, and the impact of climate change. In Ghana, the dry, and drying, climate is admittedly more favourable to organic production. For example, the leaf fungus Black sigatoka thrives better in more humid conditions, while nematode pests aren’t present in Ghana. Not that this has deterred Compagnie Fruitière from developing organic production in the more challenging humid climate of Ecuador.
 
By utilising organic fertilisers, biological and mechanical control of pests, and cover crops to maintain soil fertility and retain water, the French fruit producer has been able to successfully develop organic production over the last four years and is planning to double that production significantly in the coming years.
 
And the bottom line, from a commercial perspective, is that organic production is, in this case, more profitable than conventional chemically reliant production. While there are increased labour costs, for example for manual weeding, the increased price at which organic bananas are sold in a growing European market for organic bananas means they are better able to cover the costs of production. But we won’t spoil the video by repeating here their comparative figures for labour costs, fertilisation, yields and margins between conventional and organic. We’ll leave you to watch the video yourself.
 
As Golden Exotics’ Director of Operations, Johan Glo, says at the conclusion of the video, “To grow organic is to think different”.

The video can be viewed at:

The text and video are also available in Spanish too:

http://bananalink.org.uk/es/%E2%80%9Ccultivar-productos-org%C3%A1nicos-significa-pensar-de-manera-diferente%E2%80%9D-0 If you would be interested in supporting this work, or would like to know more, please contact Paul Lievens at comms@bananalink.org.uk

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Agroecology in Nicaragua: transforming the way people live and their relationship to the land

Helen Yuill from the UK Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign (NSC) visited Nicaragua on a delegation organised by Friends of the ATC, a US network building solidarity with and support for the ATC.  Over the coming year NSC will be developing a programme of raising awareness and solidarity links with the ATC including the organisation of a speaker tour of the UK by an ATC representative in 2020. We are grateful to Helen for permission to reproduce the article arising from her visit on this website.

By ENCA member and NSC representative Helen Yuill

November 2019

Key words: La Vía Campesina; agroecology; food sovereignty; organic food production; climate crisis; crop diversification; Latin America Agroecology Institute.

According to an International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report of 7 August 2019, our food system – including farming and grazing, transportation, packaging, and feed production – produces a catastrophic 37% of greenhouse gas emissions.  

With the sharp rise in international awareness of the gravity of the climate crisis, the 200 million strong international movement of small farmers and indigenous peoples, La Vía Campesina, is playing a key role in not only denouncing our current system as unsustainable but also proposing and putting into practice alternative models that protect the environment as well as people.

On 17 December, 2018 the UN approved a declaration of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, the outcome of a 17 year struggle by La Vía Campesina and other organisations.  The declaration “endorses the protection of livelihoods of peasants and all small-scale food producers feeding the world.”

The Rural Workers Association (ATC) in Nicaragua was a founder member of La Vía Campesina in 1993 and plays a prominent role nationally and internationally in advocating for agroecology, food sovereignty and climate justice.

The ATC has two areas of work: defending the employment rights of rural workers in the coffee, banana and tobacco sectors; and supporting co-operatives and communitiesgrowing coffee, maize, beans, fruit, and vegetables using agroecological methods.

In line with La Vía Campesina principles and practice the ATC views agroecology as much more than organic farming. It’s about transforming the way we live and our relationship to the land. This transformation can only be achieved through a holistic integrated approach that includes poverty reduction, gender equality, overcoming dependence through food sovereignty, the cultural recovery of traditional medicines, political activism, building the social economy, and community, intergenerational and international solidarity.

Empowering women farmers: the Gloria Quintanilla Co-operative

One of eight communities that the ATC is supporting is a co-operative of 22 women in the village of Santa Julia south west of Managua where 79 families live.

The land was a heavily polluted coffee plantation owned by the Somoza family. Since being granted the land under the Sandinista agrarian reform programme in the 1980s, the women have successfully transformed the area through using agroecology. This has strengthened their self-sufficiency in food and also enabled them to secure extra income through selling food to neighbours and in the local markets.

As well as organic coffee, the women grow bananas, plantains, cassava, yam, vegetables, maize, bamboo and a wide variety of fruit. These are grown under taller trees that provide shade from the intense tropical sun. Seeds are produced locally, saved and exchanged with other farmers.

This diversification increases resilience to crises whether they are related to climate chaos or political upheavals. To overcome water shortages the co-operative together with the local community harvest water in the rainy season in underground tanks and pits and use it to water plants in the dry season.

The strength of the co-op lies in the way in which older women and younger women work together, and its commitment to community solidarity and promoting gender equality. One member commented: “Now we are rich in terms of our organisation as a co-operative.”

Agroecology: the next generation

“Agroecology is a revolution! [W]e are killing the Earth … the most urgent task we face is the search for ways to protect it.” Marlen Sánchez, director, Latin America Agroecology Institute, Nicaragua (IALA)

A fundamental area of the ATC’s work is providing training for the next generation of small farmers. This is carried out through an ATC youth network and the setting up of an IALA.   

The first group of students aged from 17 – 30 from  Central American and Caribbean La Vía Campesina organisations are due to graduate in November this year. The objective of IALA is to provide a very broad, holistic training — technical, political, and ideological — as the basis for not only working towards food sovereignty but also fundamentally transforming society and people’s relationship with the land.  

The campus itself is an agroecological farm created and maintained by the students, course facilitators, and workers.

The course creates a shared learning community with training that covers the principles and practice of agroecology. Time spent in the IALA is alternated with time spent on practical application in their home communities.

Equally important as the training in environmentally sustainable agriculture is political preparation so that the students are able to have a multiplier effect in strengthening their own communities and organisations on their return home.

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Further information: www.nicaraguasc.org.uk 

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The Ecological Association of Permaculturalists of Suchitoto (AEPS)

The Ecological Association of Permaculturalists of Suchitoto (AEPS) / Asociación Ecológica de Permacultores y Permaculturas de Suchitoto

Towards the end of 2014 problems of land tenure, staffing and management of the Permaculture Institute of El Salvador (IPES) led to a change in organisation both on the ground and in management of the IPES Demonstration Plot outside the town of Suchitoto, El Salvador. From the start of 2015 the Ecological Association of Permaculturalists of Suchitoto (AEPS) assumed management, control and working of the land on the Demonstration Plot. Many of the same characters involved with the IPES are now also involved with the AEPS and the business of organic agriculture on the plot remains much the same, including the training of campesinos from communities all around El Salvador.

The following two items – a short video and a Powerpoint presentation of the work on the Demonstration Plot – were produced by members of the AEPS during 2015.

Permaculture in El Salvador

The Permaculture Institute of El Salvador (IPES) was founded in 2002, by a small group of farmers concerned about the destruction of their environment and way of life (Permacultura America Latina). Juan Rojas, a Salvadoran political and trade union activist, as well as a key figure in the solidarity movement, was the instigator of the organisation. Keen to revive the country’s agricultural potential after the war, he introduced the concept of permacultural design, which he learnt whilst exiled in Australia.

IPES is a grassroots organisation whose members are small-scale farmers. They use the ‘campesino a campesino’ approach to teach methods of ecological agriculture and sustainable living (Permaculture America Latina). “Our prime focus is on sustainable farming for family food production” (Karen Inwood, 31/07/10). In its infancy, IPES worked directly with self-selected communities, simply teaching them to farm in a more natural way. Karen Inwood, the British director, believes the organisation has developed in such a way that IPES will no longer go into communities directly, as it is for the best that heads of municipalities teach their peoples themselves. Once the community leaders, who become ‘promoters’, have learnt the necessary skills, it is more effective that they pass on their knowledge to create a sub-system of leaders, and therefore the permaculture network is built up with minimal intervention from the primary institute. The heads of communities acquire permacultural knowledge to share in their respective districts via the design course run by IPES.

Many people have lost the concept that they are able to solve their own problems and a dependence on aid from NGOs has evolved in places (Karen Inwood, 30/07/10). What makes IPES’ work different is that “the promoters are taught on the basis that they have a commitment to educate others, and with this methodology, it truly becomes a process within their community that doesn’t need outsiders to be part of.” (Karen Inwood, 30/07/10)

There are eight employees receiving a small salary at IPES, thus the institute relies heavily on its 25 voluntary staff. Together the team have just revised the curriculum of the design course and are currently writing a book to accompany it. The year long course is run for two or three days each month in the municipalities of the course attendants. The programme begins with an overview of El Salvador’s agricultural history, including how the land has changed and why. Participants are then introduced to the fundamental principles of permaculture: relying on natural resources, everything being interrelated and interactive, and every design attribute having more than one practicality and function (Karen Inwood, 30/07/10). “We open their hearts to the concept of a link with Mother Earth, and this also develops naturally as the course progresses” (Karen Inwood, 30/07/10). Groups of students then start designing a particular plot of land on paper. The designs are then put into practice, whilst learning techniques such as improving soil fertility, natural pest control and seed selection. The final module relates to permaculture in everyday life and how to enlighten others of its benefits. “Everything learnt on the course can be replicated without outside help, resources or technology” (Karen Inwood, 30/07/10).


Sources:
Global Permaculture. www.permatopia.com/dictionary.html (accessed 09/08/2010).
Permacultura America Latina (PAL), IPES, http://www.permacultura.org/elsalvador.html (accessed 09/08/2010).
Karen Inwood (30 July 2010) in interview specifically for this book. Suchitoto, El Salvador.

IFAD’s conclusions from evidence of organic farming in Central America

In its 2003 report entitled ‘The Adoption of Organic Agriculture Among Small Farmers in Latin America and The Caribbean’, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) drew the following conclusions and lessons.

The shift to organic production had positive impacts on the incomes of small farmers in all the case studies.

Small farmers dominated organic production in all the countries in which the case studies were located.

The organic models of production have also been associated with positive effects on the health of producers and workers and on the environment.

Most successful organic producers own their land, and small farmers with unstable land tenure … have been unable to produce organic products.

The most successful organic producers have been those who were already applying a production system characterised by technologies not based on chemical inputs.

Exporters and marketing firms recognise that the buyers of organic products in industrialised countries are becoming increasingly more demanding in terms of quality.

Groups of small farmers could be hurt significantly if only one group member or a few group members do not comply with the organic methods of production.

Organic production in all the cases studied has developed in spite of the limited availability of formal sources of on-farm credit.

Shifting to organic production has not required significant on-farm investments.

The transitional period – the first two or three years after farmers start to produce organically – has been the most difficult period for organic producers in terms of financial needs.

The most important off-farm investments required by organic production are similar to the ones required by conventional production, including packing and storage facilities. … They have usually been carried out by farmer associations and marketing firms.

Projects working with small producers should focus on strengthening associations that will play a major role in the marketing of production, the dissemination of organic technologies … and the monitoring of their members’ compliance with organic methods of production.

The marketing of organic products through farmer associations that have established direct contact with buyers has been key in helping small farmers obtain better prices.

Contract farming schemes involving processing and marketing firms have facilitated the marketing of the production of small farmers and given them access to extension services.

Small farmers have a relatively weak position in negotiations with firms because they have limited information and are poorly organised.

The domestic market for organic products in developing countries show good growth prospects.

NGOs have played the most influential role in the emergence of organic agriculture, usually by promoting alternative models of production among indigenous farmers that are based on the use of local resources rather than on the purchase of external inputs.