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.