Learn how to tell when it is “Organic”

“Organic” is often used to describe various sustainable agricultural and food items. The term “organic”…

“Organic” is often used to describe various sustainable agricultural and food items. The term “organic” also is used descriptively for an action. For example, “I try to live organically” or “organic farming is better for the planet.” The word (and process) has become so popular, product advertisers use organic as an adjective for everything assumed healthy (mostly without additives/spies/preservative). Such common usage makes it questionable to tell when products truly are organic and how consumers can tell the difference.

In Ghana, organic can be defined differently depending on the product. The Ecological Standards of Ghana is the default certification for organic products. Also, the Ghana Standards Authority requires some guidelines for organic farming methods and products on the market.

What makes it organic?

Certification. There are three levels of certification that are recognized in Ghana for organic produce. The first is; Farmer to customer trust. This is purely based on trust between the farmer and the organic consumer, mostly in cases where both live within the same proximity and therefore the consumer can ascertain the soil and farming methods used are the recommended for organic farming.

The second level of certification is the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS). This is the most used and trusted form of certification for domestically produced organic produce in Ghana and many other countries. PGS focuses on assisting and developing quality assurance system that certifies organic farmers based on active participation and use of recommended Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).

Ghana’s PGS is implemented through the OM4D project (Organic Markets for Development) by IFOAM – Organics International and Agro-Eco. PGS mainly certifies the soil and procedure for farming. This includes active participation of organic farmers in a group for input, social network and peer to peer learning. The organic farmer groups are then allocated a TIN number that reflects on their allocated PGS logo to ensure produce traceability. Monitoring and checks are done through farm visits which can be announced or un-announced to monitor adherence. Once a farmer is noted to have conflicted his organic farming practices, his PGS certification is withdrawn and the farmer is assisted in subsequent efforts towards organic farming. 

The third level of certification is by external organization (for organic exporters). This form of certification usually relays on the destination countrys’ organic certification requirements. For export or imported organic products, one will usually notice the labels with USDA, Bio, Eco-Sat etc. These labels can also be found on organic products in shops and markets in Ghana.

Uncertified Organics

Through my organic journey, I have met some farmers who use sustainable growing methods approved for organic farming but choose not to get certified. This happens mainly because they don’t have the assistance or knowledge that they could expand their organic market further, it doesn’t mean their products aren’t organically grown and produced. They need to be made aware and encouraged and possibly join the PGS programme to reach a wider domestic market.

For example, an organic shea farm may not be officially certified even though it truly grows organic shea. This is a tricky exception because it relies on consumer knowledge of sustainable growing methods. That said, due to the organic craze, those adhering to strict organic standards will likely let the public know how their produce was grown by stating the process on their website, product labels or other marketing materials. 

Farmers Markets

Organic food and products may cost less at the farmers’ markets but it can be hard to know what you’re getting—especially when products lack PGS or other certification stickers. When in doubt, always read the labels or ask questions about farming methods used or proof of certification.

Way forward

To achieve a robust and sustainable market (local organic produce) for local markets/consumers”, Ghana must work towards a nationally recognized certification identity. PGS, as a fundamental organic certification is building trust for the local organic products for the local organic consumer.

Next week, we will focus on the organic producers and markets. Let’s get interactive and assist an organic consumer in making good choices. Share your organic shopping experience(s), diets, market place, products, organic restuarant with us via email at ewurama.addu@gmail.com