For almost two years, farmers like Jane Kimani have been at the centre of a hot debate over so-called “food miles.” “Food miles” refers to the distance our food travels to get from the point of production to the point of consumption, and the environmental impact of that travel.
Standing near her plantation of avocados and bananas in 2007, Ms. Kimani took questions from a British newspaper reporter. The Kenyan farmer explained that she could never afford chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Several years ago, she and her husband joined a farmers’ group that earned certified organic status.
Ms. Kimani is part of the Wangige Organic Farmers’ Group. Their products are certified by the Soil Association – an organization that certifies most of the organic produce sold in the United Kingdom. With this recognition, the farmers receive better prices for their crops, and Ms. Kimani’s family enjoys a better standard of living.
An estimated 150,000 Kenyans farmers make their living as organic farmers. A significant portion of these farmers ship their produce to the UK. In fact, UK consumers spend over a million British pounds (about 1.5 million American dollars or 1.1 million Euros) each year on organic produce from Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
In 2007, the growing trade in organic produce between Africa and the UK threatened to grind to a halt. At that time, the Soil Association began looking at the greenhouse gas emissions produced by transporting fruit and vegetables by air. The association considered removing its organic seal from air-freighted produce.
Airlines, supermarkets, environmentalists, and farmers’ advocates weighed in on the debate that followed.
The Soil Association recently reached a decision in favour of African farmers. Francis Blake is Technical Director of the Soil Association. He says the organization was heavily influenced by talks with African farming organizations. These consultations revealed the social benefits of organic farming.
Research from the International Institute for Environment Development was also influential. A study showed that, while air-freighting food from Africa produces greenhouse gases, the methods used by organic farmers in Africa are more environmentally sustainable than the intensive practices widely used in Europe.
The decision means that Ms. Kimani and other farmers like her will continue to enjoy premium prices for their certified organic produce.
Click here to see the notes to broadcasters on organic farming