While studying for my exam in development economics, I came across a piece of very interesting information about the development of organic farming in LDCs (the least developed countries). The report is called Sida studies no. 19 and is written by Stefan de Vylder. It is free to download at Sida. It struck me how things sometimes just work out for the better, how one good thing can lead to another. For farmers that have never been able to afford pesticides or fertilizers in the first place, switching to organic production isn’t very costly. They already have the knowledge of how to minimise insect attacks and to enrich the soil with natural means.
Organic products allow LDCs to diversify exports, which is crucial to economic development. Another important aspect is that products such as organic fresh fruits and vegetables are more profitable in comparison to other crops. If rich countries reduced tariff escalation (which means that tariffs increase with the level of a product’s processing), the growth potential would be even bigger. In such a scenario, a country like Colombia could, instead of just exporting unprocessed coffee beans, also roast and prepare the beans themselves.
Poor farmers that want to export organic products usually can’t afford certification. It is a tough question for us consumers whether we should buy uncertified organic products or not. How can we know for sure that the product is truly organic? In general, poorer nations have less possibilities of using fertilizers and other artificial means since they lack the investments required. Transportation is another factor that is relatively more expensive in developing countries. While sending a Swedish cow to be slaughtered in Germany may be profitable, an equivalent action in the developing world would not.
There is, of course, the issue of transportation of these products from distant countries to Europe. The transport leaves a certain carbon footprint. Greenhouse plantations in Holland, which the EU subsidises, leave an even bigger carbon footprint. Swedish radio documentary ”Matens pris” investigates the enormous energy required to heat such plantations. The amount of energy used for the production of the swedish consumption of Dutch peppers would take a big car around the earth 8 153 times, according to the documentary. And then energy used for the fertilizers isn’t even included.
Kenya is a developing country that has been able to successfully increase exports of fresh vegetables to Europe. Still, I don’t think I have ever spotted a single Kenyan vegetable in my local grocery shop. The organic exports are still small in quantity, however of potential growing importance. So the next time you’re grocery shopping, keep an eye out for products from developing nations! It could make a difference for countries that need economic growth the most.
/ Cecilia Holmgren