Friday, February 6, 2009

Organic in Mexico

Worldwide, 77 million acres of land are certified organic. In Italy and many northern European countries, organic land represents roughly one-quarter of total farm land. (Source: IFOAM) Helga Willer of FiBL presented the latest figures on organic farming worldwide at the BioFach Congress 2009 in Germany.

In Latin America, Uruguay has the highest percentage of organic farm land – much of it in urban areas. Even their wool is certified organic. But Uruguay is not close enough to the USA to maintain a low carbon footprint for agricultural exports. Organic consumers are very interested in regionally produced foods.

My partners and I are visiting organic farmers in Mexico to discuss organizing a program to lift awareness among U.S. retailers regarding “Organic in Mexico”. Many organic exporters are close to large population centers in the USA. Climate, soil, and affordable farm labor are factors favorable to organic farmers south of the border. Virtually all of Mexico’s certified organics are exported.

In many areas of northern Mexico, certification is a fast track process because inspectors find zero residual fertilizer and insecticide levels in the soil. The reason is simple - farmers haven’t the money to spend on chemicals for their crops.

In 2000 Mexico placed 16th in the world and fifth in Latin America for organic land under production. Unfortunately, Argentina’s 3 million hectares certified organic includes unmanaged range land, so the statistic is misleading. “The value of organic production in 2000 was $150 million from Mexico, five times greater than Argentina’s, which puts Mexico second only to Brazil in total value of organic production in Latin America”, according to agriculture researcher Don Lotter from Davis, California.

Mexico’s domestic demand is still small; however, the value of organic production in Mexico is expanding at twice the rate of the USA’s. Coffee is Mexico’s largest organic crop. For organic coffee from Mexico, fresh roasted the day you order it, visit - Seth Appell has been importing organic coffee for decades. Buying organic coffee from Latin America helps small rural growers more than most foods you can buy. "Over 50,000 small farmers, with an average holding of 2 hectares produce over two-thirds of organic production value in Mexico. Since it is far beyond the abilities of a producer of that size to seek individual certification, certification is done by farmer groups and cooperatives", states Lotter.

We’ll be following in Mr. Lotter’s footsteps as we meet with growers this week. We highly recommend Don’s field notes from 2004 focused on Del Cabo Cooperative, a 300-family project from Baja's organic gardens.

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