BRIEF DESCRIPTION / BACKGROUND OF THE PROJECT
The global market for certified organic agrifood products is expanding fast, resulting in greater opportunities for Asian producers. Consumers are increasingly concerned about the authenticity of the organic products they buy. Therefore, producers need a way of assuring the consumers that a product has been grown using organic methods. Organic certification could help protect both consumers and genuine organic producers alike from false claims and misleading labeling of products. Organic certification is undertaken based on organic standards or established regulatory and audit systems for producers, handlers, processors, retailers, wholesalers and exporters of organic products. Today’s market demands third-party certification for sales transactions, and it is required by the regulations of many governments for any kind of an “organic” claim on a product label.
Given that there is a large number of standards worldwide, certification must be in line with internationally accepted standards and regulations such s the Common Objectives and Requirements of Organic Standards (COROS) and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements’ (IFOAM) Standard Requirements. However, verification and auditing of organic standards remains a challenge considering the varied competency and experience of inspectors and auditors, as well as the inspection and audit practices in relation with the existing standards. Thus, there is a need to capacitate inspectors and auditors in organic certification and auditing. The training course was designed as a follow-up to the “Workshop on Development of Standard and Certification Systems for Organic Agricultural Products” held in India in 2011.
The training course was designed to address competencies required by various stakeholders involved in the development of organic food industry in APO-member countries. It sought to enhance the knowledge of professionals who a) have adequate knowledge and understanding of the organic standard requirements; b) are interested in pursuing a career as an organic inspector/auditor; and, c) wish to enhance their professional understanding of organic quality assurance.
Specifically, the course aimed to:
a. Enhance participants’ understanding of organic standards and certification programs; and,
b. Enable participants to acquire the knowledge and skills to interpret and audit according to the COROS and IFOAM’s Standard Requirements.
OBJECTIVES FOR PARTICIPATION
My participation in this training program is mainly because of its relevance and significance in my work in DAP’s agriculture productivity enhancement programs. The training program is an opportunity for me to acquire more knowledge and develop my capabilities on the principles/systems, standards and auditing processes in organic products. Also, I believe that the training course will further enhance and build my competence and confidence in the implementation, management, promotion and development of approaches for enhancing productivity and competitiveness for enhancing agriculture productivity, particularly in providing capability building programs and projects and technical assistance to various agencies, both public and private involved in organic agriculture. These activities aim not only to enhance the productivity of agricultural produce but also to improve the lives of the farmers, their families, and the communities.
PROFILE OF PARTICIPANTS
The training course had 23 individuals from APO-member countries, of which five (5) were from Sri Lanka. Indonesia, IR Iran, Malaysia Pakistan and Philippines each had two (2) participants, including myself, while Bangladesh and Thailand had three (3) participants, and Nepal and Vietnam had only one (1) participant each. The participants were from middle management and executives of public, private, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and academic institutions involved in organic agriculture.
SCOPE, CONTENT AND METHODOLOGY
The training began with a one-day public seminar which focused mainly on the challenges and different global trends in organic production, certification and trade while the course proper was divided into four (4) modules: (1) IFOAM’s Certification Standard, COROS and Asian Regional Organic Standards (AROS); (2) National Organic Programs and Standards; (3) Inspection and Certification Procedures; and (4) Organic Inspection, Certification and Integrity. The Philippines’ country case presentation was included during the public seminar. Both the Philippine participants (including myself) presented the said case study.
Specifically, each module included the following topics:
Module I: Public Seminar on Challenges in Organic Production and Marketing
Module II: IFOAM Certification Standard, COROS and AROS
Module IV: Inspection and Certification Procedures
Module V: Organic Inspection, Certification and Integrity
Module IV: Developing An Action Plan as a Productivity Practitioner
The training course was conducted for six (6) days last 18 to 23 June 2012 held mainly in Negombo, Sri Lanka. To be able to achieve its objectives, the course employed active and participative learning methods using lectures/discussions, group workshops/exercises, observations and practical on-site inspection in an organic farm to develop and enhance the participants’ knowledge and skills on the various standards, inspection and certification processes of organic agriculture products. Foreign and local experts from Germany and the Republic of China shared their knowledge and insights on the subject matters with passion and conviction. To further build the capacity of the participants in organic inspection/auditing and certification procedures, and as an integral part of the training, a practical on-site inspection was conducted in an organic-certified farm in Maho, Sri Lanka in the 5th day of the course, 22 June 2012.
The exercise enabled the participants to have a hands-on experience as an auditor/inspector and created a learning opportunity for them to exchange ideas with the organic practicing farmer about the farm and the technologies being applied. Also, the participants visited the Lanka Organic Ltd., factory site where organic cashew nuts were being processed and packaged. After the on-site inspection, the participants assessed and certified the organic-certified farm applying appropriate international standards and requirements.
OUTCOMES AND EVALUATION
Through this training, my knowledge on organic agriculture broadened hence deepening my appreciation with my work in DAP. Also, the learning program has enhanced my capabilities in carrying out my roles and responsibilities in a more effective and efficient manner. Prior to the conduct of the training, I had the opportunity to be involved in implementing an APO-sponsored project on organic product standards and certification systems. However, I had a better and deeper understanding and grasp of the concepts and its applications as a participant/trainee during the training program which developed my competencies and equipped me better in implementing similar projects.
Overall, the training course was successfully conducted even though it involved multi-country participants/delegates and RPs. The training course is very valuable particularly for individuals (like myself) involved in the agriculture sector, particularly organic agriculture. Both resource persons were able to effectively impart their knowledge and skills on organic product auditing and certification. Also, their manner of delivery and teaching styles were able to foster a conducive learning environment given the length/duration of the training program. It was quite advantageous that the venue was secured and strategic which lessened issues/concerns on the safety of the foreign participants and worry of the project team. Likewise, solidarity activities cultivated friendships among participants.
RECOMMENDATIONS AND ACTION STEPS
1. One major recommendation is to continue engaging similar competent and effective resource speakers. They have good command of English which helped greatly for them to effectively and successfully discuss their topics and for the participants to easily understand them and comprehend the topics discussed. Also, with their extensive years of experience in the field, they were able to provide more practical and realistic examples.
2. I commend the organizers for adopting paperless training and provided electronic copy of the training materials/presentations only, for practical and environmental reason. They only provided hard copy of selected and essential materials to the participants.
3. Continue (and supplement) the various methodologies and approaches used in the conduct of the training program.
4. Similar training programs should be implemented in the local level since the organic agriculture is a growing and emerging industry, particularly in the Philippines.
MARIE ROSE RAMOS
Associate Project Officer III
Agricultural Productivity Enhancement Division
Center for Quality and Competitiveness
Development Academy of the Philippines