Caribbean Open Trade Support (COTS) Report: Dominica Organic Agriculture Movement

A 2004 article about organic production in Dominica concluded with an assessment of the problems facing organic farmers, including general skepticism about the possibilities of success, difficulties in obtaining inputs, and issues of certification, policy, and regulation. Access to markets was noted as the greatest deterrent for farmers to engage in organic production. Since that time, a number of steps have been taken to address these problems. A February 2005 United Nations Environment Programme/Dominican government report, “Transforming Dominica into an Organic Island,” provides a thorough analysis of why organic production is appropriate and essential for Dominica’s environmental and economic goals. A June 2007 National Organic Agriculture Enhancement Project report provides a complete outline and budget projections for the Dominica Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Environment to implement a sustainable organic agriculture sector. The creation of an “organic desk” in the Ministry of Agriculture and the official launch of the Dominica Organic Agriculture Movement (DOAM) are signs of progress toward these goals. Progress, though, means continuing to implement the National Organic Agriculture Enhancement Project and building market opportunities for organic products.

Success in Dominica hinges on public and private participation in developing and expanding organic production. Relying on market forces and the private sector alone will not work because of Dominica’s size, scale of production, and access to transportation, and because organic production is not just a market opportunity, it is a method to protect, restore, and enhance the environment, which requires government participation and commitment. The United States and the European Union (EU) lead the world in organic production and organic market share as a result of more than 30 years of public and private initiatives and investments. Active involvement by farmers, businesses, citizens, and government toward a common goal for organics will make a difference in Dominica.

Dominica is poised to move forward as DOAM organic production standards near completion and move through the process for public review and approval by the Bureau of Standards. National legislation that includes organic as a good agricultural practice is being considered and may be the precursor to mandatory national organic standards and certification. The Ministry of Agriculture is receptive to increasing its involvement by providing information and advice to farmers on organic production methods as good agricultural practices, regardless of whether farms fully convert to organic. Other services— such as regional compost operations, cooperative composting near farm areas with multiple individual plots, and restoration of traditional animal breeds — support expansion of organic production, and the Ministry of Agriculture should be encouraged to expand its work in these areas.

DOAM is the hub of the public/private partnership and needs continued support to build its capacity to promote organic production and standards. Bringing together Dominica’s organic activities, initiatives, and opportunities is DOAM’s core role. Presently, DOAM operates as a volunteer organization and therefore there see only incremental gains toward its goals. A volunteer coordinator, empowered by members, must be identified or step forward to manage a business, communication, and advocacy plan. As funds are available, the position should transition from volunteer to paid, which will accelerate the development of organic agricultural production. Regardless of the pace, there are viable activities that will sustain forward movement. This report proposes components of a communication and advocacy plan for DOAM, including a “Buy Organic, Locally Grown” campaign that will promote awareness and educate the public and media about organic agriculture and its benefits. Recommendations are made to develop a diverse base of funding for DOAM, including government funds, foundation or NGO grants, business initiatives such as organic farm supply sales, fees for membership, and organic certification or registration.

Based on an analysis of the current capacity and resources required to establish an organic certification program, an initial, simple registration program that includes DOAM and the Ministry of Agriculture is recommended. A registration program would serve organic farmers and processors by reducing the costs to organic entry, encouraging the adoption of organic practices, building capacity in DOAM and within the government, preparing producers and processors for organic certification requirements, and eliminating the need for two (or more) certifications for export products. Ideally, the Bureau of Standards would take up organic certification and inspection when mandatory national organic legislation is in place. Group certification and a regional organic certification and inspection program are alternatives to a Dominican certification program.

Revisions to DOAM standards are proposed based on the idea that organic standards should reflect the unique situation of Dominican producers and consumers and be oriented toward stimulating both organic production and marketing. Dominica’s standards should be established for internal markets but compatible with U.S. and EU standards so that producers and handlers interested in export markets could obtain the applicable certifications. Standards should primarily serve an educational function, and therefore are proposed as relatively simple and readily understood. The proposed standards do not attempt to encompass all possible sectors of organic production and processing, especially those that are minimally developed for non-organic agriculture on the island. Livestock standards are intended to be attainable by small producers who sell only to local markets.

Local market opportunities exist for Dominica as much of the fresh fruits and vegetables purchased by the local population and by retail stores, hotels, restaurants, and resorts is locally grown. With no strident opposition to purchasing organic at a reasonable price, there is a ready market, especially for eco-tourists who come to Dominica, the “Nature Island.” For fresh organic produce, the neighboring Caribbean islands — especially those with Green Globe-certified hotels or eco-tourist resorts — are a prime opportunity for Dominica. Competition and lack of infrastructure limit other export markets for fresh organic fruits and vegetables, but processed organic products may be able to find access to the United States and the EU, as well as to neighboring islands’ markets.

The consumers that drive trends are shifting from an interest in anything organic to crafted, artisanal, or unique products that are organically produced. This is the niche for processed or preserved organic products from Dominica. Organic medicinal or herbal teas, dried fruit specialty products (fruit leathers and roll-ups), rum, ornamental flowers, and cocoa are recommended for further exploration and development. Partnerships with entrepreneurs, U.S. or EU companies, and other development initiatives — such as COTS’ Business Support Component and the New Orleans: Dominica/Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Trade Initiative — must be pursued to break down technical, financial, and market barriers.

Dominican organic production can find success, but it will require enthusiasm, persistence, and a willingness to move beyond the comfort zone.

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