With lifestyle diseases scratching everyone’s door itching to get in, the movement towards consumption of organic produce in Kenya is catching momentum. Organic produce is considered safer, healthier and commands higher prices which is a plus for farmers.
A six-year study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that organically grown onions had 20 percent higher antioxidant properties than conventionally grown onions. Additionally, a 2014 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found organic produce less likely to contain cadmium (a harmful metal that usually collects in the liver and kidney).
These health benefits are part of the reason why organic produce fetches higher prices in markets the world over, and also the main reason why strict standards are in place to protect consumers and ensure quality is maintained.
In a nutshell, this is how organic certification works; consumers of organic food need a way to know that the food you are selling them is really organic. That duty falls on the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)which has agents/branches in different countries. The agents are certified to conduct inspection, marking and certification to ensure produce standards have been met. An example of a local agent that certifies organic produce in Kenya is EnCert.
For one to get certification they have to meet the following conditions:
- Keep records of your farm, which makes it easier for subsequent inspection and traceability.
- Accept inspection.
- Know the organic production standards and abide by them.
To get certified you will first have to apply to the local certifying agent-EnCert in Kenya, who will then send an inspector over to your farm. Note, that organic certification verifies the production process and not the produce itself; thus expect the inspector to be thorough. He/she will interview you as the owner or the farm manager, to gauge whether you have familiarised yourself with the East African Organic Products standards, the local guidelines that farmers in our region fall under.
The inspector will then test your soil for harmful heavy metals like lead that can contaminate produce and water for pathogens, pesticides and heavy metals. He/she will further observe the conditions of the surrounding farm, for instance, your farm cannot be organic when your adjacent neighbour is spraying pesticides, which can easily be carried over to your crops. For such a case, you will need a buffer/guard zone between the neighbour and your organic section; you can plant food crops, Napier grass, trees etc. in this zone
Additionally, your source of seeds and seedlings will also be examined; they shouldn’t be Genetically Modified (GMO) or chemically treated otherwise you will fail the inspection. If using seedlings/runners for plants like strawberries then they also have to be organically produced.
Ensure that your storage facilities are up to standard and are protected from contamination too, otherwise, it could affect the whole process. For instance, you can’t store tools or manure from your organic farm with tools from a part of your farm under conventional agriculture. You will need separate stores under lock and key.
The inspector will then forward their findings to a registration committee that will approve or deny your application. If you are deemed satisfactory, you will be issued a registration certificate and your products will be able to carry the organic certification mark from EnCert.