Sustainable Organic Systems

Organic Coffee and Sustainability Part 1

In the early 1940’s there were a number of important scientists, farmers, and early environmentalists who were becoming concerned with the impact chemical agriculture was having on the state of our vital soils, family farmers, and rural communities; not to mention the environmental impact!

In 1941-42, J.I. Rodale started Organic Gardening & Farming Publication, and the words ‘Organic’ and ‘Sustainable Systems’ were beginning to be used in conjunction with agriculture throughout the Western World. A serious movement began to take shape to counteract the conventional agricultural systems through Sustainable Organic Practices.

Moving along, in 1972 the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) was founded in France by several concerned leaders from Europe, Canada, and the USA. A serious set of Organic Production Standards evolved until they became the Global Organic Standards.

There were also strong efforts being made in California, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and others areas. In the mid 70’s a group of concerned farmers founded the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) and they aggressively developed Organic Production and Certification Standards, covering everything from seed to shelf. This group effort spread rapidly throughout North, Central, and South America and later to Japan and China.

Soon after, in the mid 80’s, the Organic Foods Production Association of North America (OFPANA), now the Organic Trade Association (OTA), was founded and took on the task to educate producers and consumers on the benefits and values of organic production. Today it’s the largest such organization in the world!

At this point, the Organic Products Marketplace was estimated to be only a few hundred million USD, including farm gate sales.

As the 1980’s progressed it became apparent to the organic leadership, including the value-added trade and supply chain, that we could not effectively grow the market using 30 or more organic production standards and independent certifiers; something needed to be done.

To remedy this problem, the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) was passed by the US Congress as part of the Farm Bill. At the same time, the EU and other National Governments were moving in the same direction; including the UN-FAO Codex Guidelines.

It took ten years to put meat on the bones of OFPA, whereas the USDA National Organic Program (NOP), evolved and was fully implemented in 2001.

That meant anyone using the word Organic in organic production from seed to shelf needed to enter the legal volunteer system layout in the NOP, prepare an Organic Farm and/or Handler Plan, submit it to a USDA-NOP Accredited Certifier, be inspected and certified annually, and use only approved materials on the NOP Materials National List!

From the implementation of the NOP in 2001, the US Organic Products Marketplace has grown exponentially to $50 billion, including farm gate sales, and worldwide to around $120 billion and growing on average plus of ten (+10 %) percent annually.

Our most limiting factor now is the lack of Certified Organic Raw Materials and Ingredients, caused in part by the worldwide agriculture subsidies paid to conventional producers. These do not assist small family farmers anywhere in the world, and some aid money is not invested wisely!

Never has Certified Sustainable Organic Production been more important. Consumers worldwide are clear through the voice of their buying dollars, Organic Product Integrity is essential if they are to continue to connect to our values-based organic products.

So, what constitutes Organic Product Integrity?

Authenticity, Transparency, open communication, with full traceability to origin, and Brand and Product Trust, through verifiable certification.

Today, we have Organic Standards and Legal Regulations in over 70 countries and Organic Certification is required from seed to shelf. There are several governments with Equivalency Arrangements which have made the trade of organic products open and legally enforceable. In the US, a labeling violation could cost $10,000.00 US for each violation. These regulations now enable organic raw material and ingredient buyers, suppliers, and consumers to connect in the marketplace to products that represent organic product integrity.

Organic Product Are Too Expensive? 

Not really. Truthfully, when the conventional production system externalizes cost downstream for civil society to bear the risk and clean-up, and good organic farmers internalize these costs, organic products are the best values-based investments and purchases you can make.

Some years ago I met the Indiana Jones of Organic Coffee, Karen Cebreros. Although I had completed organic coffee inspections in Guatemala and Mexico, then later Africa and Ethiopia, now I was off on quite a coffee trek: moving throughout Peru, Mexico, Central and South America, Indonesia, and East Timor, where coffee was so low priced the small farmers could not maintain a sustainable quality of life.

The goal was simple. Through Certified Organic Coffee, we could lift up the small farmers and their rural communities to where everyone in the chain would benefit: the farmers, the trade, and the consumers; a goal not yet fully realized.

In addition to getting organic farmers, beneficios, and export/import partners Certified Organic, we also enter the World of Organic Decaf Coffee, which brings new technical challenges to the organic coffee industry. Remember, in the legal certification system required by the NOP Organic Certification, we can only use materials that are approved on the NOP National Materials List, whereas all materials used in the organic system must meet specific criteria.

The first organic-certified decaf system was Swiss Water® Decaffeinated Coffee Company, and after several tries, and much work with the certifier, OCIA International, the Swiss Water® Process was certified Organic. This system continues to serve the industry today.

Coming along at this time was the use of Super Critical Extraction (SCE). Since no prohibited materials and/or solvents were used in this new process, it was certified organic. Other clean methods are evolving and perhaps certifiable.

Please remember, as I close this part; choose only Certified Organic Products that adhere to a recognized set of legally enforceable regulatory standards and are certified by a USDA NOP Accredited Certifier.

• Authenticity

• Transparency

• Trust But Certified

More to come as we continue to build an organic coffee industry; an industry built on a set of principles and values that reward based on a commitment to excellence, a certified guarantee, a sustainable fair market price at the farm gate that assures farmers, farm families, rural communities and the next generation a real sustainable organic future. Only then will our goals be met.

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