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Kingdom’s farmers offered alternative to organic label

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A store attendant arranges organic bananas on a shelf last year at a Khmer Cooperative Organic store in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Kingdom’s farmers offered alternative to organic label

Cambodian smallholder farmers looking to increase their revenues can benefit from Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) that act as locally self-implemented organic labels and offer an alternative to more costly third-party certifications for organic produce, experts said yesterday.

PGS is a low-cost certification scheme that focuses on helping farmers sell their products under an organic label that is self-regulated by those involved in the value chain, including buyers and end-consumers, explained Mayling Flores Rojas, agricultural officer at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

“Buyers and consumers in particular are encouraged to visit the farms and check their documentation so that transparency and trust can be built through the participation of various actors” she said. “Once the PGS is established the monetary cost to run it is close to zero.”

Rojas said FAO has been working with the Ministry of Agriculture on a pilot project to implement PGS in Cambodia since August 2015.

The goal of the initiative is to include small scale farmers into organic agriculture value chains through an emphasis on knowledge sharing and close interactions between all value chain actors.

The programme has grown to involve 177 farmers divided into 13 groups across the Kampong Speu, Battambang, Kandal and Takeo provinces, she said.

Rojas said that while PGS reduces the costs of inspecting and assessing crops, there are still costs associated with building the trust of buyers. However, in the long run PGS will allow farmers to increase their overall income and quality of life.

“Farmers will gain access to market because their products are certified as PGS and they can have higher or premium prices for their products,” she said. “Farmers gain recognition from neighbours, consumers and others for the good quality of their products and ultimately they have higher incomes and improved livelihoods.”

Kean Sophea, deputy director of the Department of Horticulture and Subsidiary Crops at the Ministry of Agriculture, said PGS plays an important role in reducing poverty for farmers but also in improving food safety standards. He added that many farmers had difficulties bringing their products to market, leading to large amounts of imports.

“Farmers do not have the ability to access the market, and it is hard to build trust with consumers in order to add value to their products,” he said. “PGS will help directly connect groups of producers to groups of consumers. And it will help guarantee both adequate prices and quality while eliminating the need to spend money to hire third parties to certify our products.”

Sophea said the Ministry of Agriculture will soon adopt regulations to set national standards for organic agriculture. This will allow farmers, including those involved in PGS, to more easily implement organic agriculture requirements.

Khon Rithy, manager of Natural Village organic produce shop in Phnom Penh, said organic farmers currently face significant challenges to sell their products. He added that some sellers misleadingly claimed their products were organic, eroding the trust of consumers.

“It is difficult to build trust with my customers because some organic shops take advantage of the system and sell nonorganic products, but then claim they are organic,” he said.

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