Prince Charles praises Guyana's organic thrust
Guyana Chronicle
April 5, 2002

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PRINCE Charles commended Guyana's initiative in organic agriculture at the Caribbean Organics and Fairtrade conference at Lancaster House, London on March 21.

Here is the text of his speech at the conference:

First of all, may I say how delighted I am that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Fairtrade have taken the initiative to hold this conference on organic agriculture in the Caribbean. I am sorry not to have been able to have been with you all day, particularly as your morning's session appears to have been a lively and fascinating one.

Some people - incredibly in my view - still think that organic agriculture is a marginal, niche issue, not worthy of the attention of serious agricultural producers and unlikely to command anything other than minority demand for the consumer. I firmly believe, ladies and gentlemen, that such people are quite wrong, and that is why this conference is so important and so timely.

First of all, it is clear that the organic sector is growing at a significant rate and is offering an alternative route for agricultural development in many parts of the world which rely on the export of agricultural commodities for their livelihood. Organic food now represents over three per cent of European food consumption from virtually nothing 10 years ago, and that consumption is growing at over 15 per cent each year. This rate of growth is expected to continue - and even increase - over the next 10 years, despite the fact that organic produce in the European market place continues to command a considerable premium over the products of so-called conventional agriculture.

Secondly, you will have heard this morning something about the problems of the Caribbean banana industry, and the prospects for diversification and re-development through organic agriculture and fair trade in the Windward Islands. I firmly believe that the organic system is the most effective way of applying the principles of sustainable agricultural development and food production to the economy. Not only is there growing demand in the present, but the organic approach, coupled with the application of fair trade principles, will help ensure steady and sustainable development of, especially, smaller economies in the future.

More specifically - and as some of you may know - this conference arises from events set in train by my visit to Guyana just over two years ago - something I want to touch upon in a moment. For the first time, this gathering is bringing together all those with a stake in the production, certification and marketing of organically-grown and fairly traded agricultural products in the region. I am proud to say that I am Patron of the Soil Association who were the certifiers of the very first organic and fair trade project in the Caribbean that began in 1993, when the Maya cocoa growers of southern Belize began to supply organic cocoa to Green and Black's chocolate for their product Maya Gold. The growers co-operative has now been Soil Association certified for nearly a decade and their project has shown tremendous resilience and brought real economic benefits, overcoming even the setbacks of the considerable damage caused by last year's hurricane.

Craig Sams of Green and Black's chocolate is also the Chairman of the Soil Association and is here today, so I am sure he will welcome any enquiries about this small, but seminal project. It is, I think, becoming increasingly apparent that economic stability and sustainability are far more important than crude measures of quantity produced and that growing organically is a better way forward for development than dependence on purchased inputs, with all the debt and environmental side-effects that they bring in their wake. If bad weather reduces an organic producer's yields he or she may suffer some economic hardship, but for the producer who has borrowed to purchase chemical inputs a bad year can lead to bankruptcy and the loss of land that provides their livelihood.

Too many development projects in the past have focused solely on setting up production systems without ensuring that reliable long-term marketing systems are also in place. I believe that fair trade, combined with organic production can help to reduce the kind of trading that exploits producers distant from the final market and ignorant of prevailing prices.

One benefit of the fact that supply is still limited is that organic produce is unlikely to become subject to the commodity-style trading of conventional agricultural export crops. Most products go to specific markets through organic traders working closely with the farmer. Furthermore, and this is of particular relevance to the Caribbean, many of the organic products most in demand are imported from tropical countries - tea, coffee, cocoa and rice being particular examples.

Organic agriculture is already proving to be an effective system for re-structuring in many parts of the world where these traditional cash crops are grown. In West Africa and South America there are some highly successful organic projects which have turned around small and struggling rural communities. The excellent climate and the rich productivity of the Caribbean islands present an opportunity to develop the supply of high quality, tropical produce to affluent European markets where demand is set to grow further.

As some of you may know, I do not speak here from a theoretical perspective. Apart from farming organically myself, I started a food company 11 years ago to add value to organic crops and to create a source of income to my Charitable Foundation while, at the same time, benefiting the environment. The company is called Duchy Originals and it markets and sells products that use wholly organic ingredients - a company, by the way, which is growing at 60 per cent a year! When I visited Guyana two years ago, I had the opportunity to visit one of the less developed regions, and heard about how cocoa used to be a major cash crop for the country but whose cocoa industry had been redundant for 30 years. There and then, I suggested to the President that he might think about re-developing it - using the old cocoa plantation - to supply beans for my Duchy Originals chocolate.

Since my visit two years ago, a small co-operative of 26 farmers and their families has been set up in conjunction with the National Agricultural Research Institute. I am delighted to be able to announce today that the beans have just been granted organic status by the Dutch certifying body, Skal. By the time they have been fermented, shipped and processed, I hope to be using them in Duchy Originals chocolate late this year - in time for Christmas! I am told by the way, by those that know, that the quality of the chocolate from these organic cocoa beans is superlative.

Significantly, this particular project has not just been about economics, but has led to the regeneration of an entire community in a remote, rural area. The co-operative has set up a trading company that through the donation of a fax and computer from my Charitable Foundation has played a significant role in the development of communications in this remote region of Guyana. Through the High Commissioner, Edward Glover, and funding from the Department for International Development, a comprehensive project to re-vitalise the whole sector has been established, covering everything from basic training to ferment and store the cocoa beans, to plant breeding and intercropping techniques to diversity into other fruit crops for the local market.

In other words, a modest organic cocoa project has provided a perfect opportunity for small farmers from the disadvantaged Amerindian community to come together in mutual self-help, not on the basis of hand-outs or altruism, but to meet the hard economic imperative of supplying demand for a growing market which they were in the unique position to supply. Their combined skills and hard work are slowly beginning to make a real difference to the quality of life in their community. They have gained self-respect and the respect of others.

What is also notable in this case is the fact that these Amerindian farmers have blazed a trail which other farmers in Guyana are likely to follow in the months ahead with different produce. Word is getting around to other small communities who want to follow the success of this regeneration programme. And the impact is also being felt on some of Guyana's major producers. The Guyana Sugar Corporation, which represents Guyana's biggest national industry, has over the last two years set up a trial project to grow organic sugar. The first harvest is due this summer, and it could have a significant long-term impact if expanded. I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Guyanese President and Government, through the Minister of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock, the Honourable Satyadeow Sawh, who is here today, for seizing this initiative with flair and energy.

Many of you here representing the producers will say that this is all very well, but we can only produce for markets that are open to what we are trying to sell. I agree, and the British supermarkets in this room know from hard experience, and to their cost, that I am a determined campaigner for them to do more both to stock organic produce, and to work harder to sell the undoubted benefits of such produce to their customers. My own food brand Duchy Originals, has, I believe, had modest success in its aim of encouraging wider adoption of organic farming and food production.

By establishing links for this brand with projects such as the one in Guyana I hope to create what I can only call "virtuous circles". Through these virtuous circles the brand can support the development of small, but significant, community projects which will help to establish successful and sustainable agriculture, as well as communities, for the future. Not only that, but the consumer has the guarantee of eating more natural products, and the satisfaction of knowing that the profits of what they consume are being ploughed back into developing sustainable lifestyles in another part of the world - something which our marketing tells us is increasingly important to our sophisticated consumer. I continue to try to establish links in other countries, including Ghana and India, for the supply of new organic raw materials for the brand. I look forward to having more "virtuous circle" stories to tell in the future.

From my experience with the organic system, I know that there are no easy solutions, and I would not want anyone here leaving this conference believing that "going organic" is an easy option. It is a slow process, which requires time for land to convert and to develop new farming techniques which complement the local environment and growing conditions instead of relying on chemical pesticides and fertilisers. A potential producer will also need to research carefully possible partners who have a niche market at home that they want to fill. It can often be so much easier to carry on in the same old way, however, unprofitable in the long-term, and however damaging that may be to the environment...

Yet "going organic" also brings so many benefits:
* The potential for more secure, stable and long-term markets, and therefore incomes, both because farmers are no longer vulnerable to commodity market trading, but more importantly because trade is channelled through close business partnerships.

* Capital is generally provided by investors prepared to take a deep breath and wait for their longer term pay back, instead of looking for an instant profit.

* Many organic projects are based on co-operative ownership, so benefits accrue to all members of the local community, especially when training and social welfare programmes are incorporated, which they frequently are.

* It encourages diversification away from heavy reliance on mono-culture systems to a variety of different crops, avoids reliance on commercially-owned varieties - particularly and, most importantly if I may say so, the genetically modified ones - and benefits the environment by protecting natural diversity. Organic techniques also tend to be rooted in traditional, local methods of production well-adapted over many centuries to the particular local terrain and micro-climate. Inevitably, quality follows.

* I know that these benefits are not necessarily seen by everyone as self-evident. So I am going to conclude with an appeal and a challenge - an appeal to the supermarkets, and a challenge to governments.

* To the many in the audience who represent supermarkets and other large commercial organisations, I should like to urge you to consider creating your own "virtuous circles". The experience of Duchy Originals suggests that your customers will respond. And you can have an impact on a much more significant scale than my small food brand. I hope that today's conference will open the door to many useful contacts in Caribbean countries who could become willing sources of supply.

* And to those representing governments, I would remind you that your support is vital. It creates confidence, which is important when asking people to switch out of conventional agriculture and change the way they think. Governments can also look at how to develop local markets, rather than relying solely on the export market. Why not look at growing organic produce for tourists as well as for local consumption; creating local distribution businesses and fostering local economies? I can only challenge you to be more imaginative, and to embrace the organic opportunities as the Guyanese government has done.

* By creating a positive political climate for sustainable agricultural development, I believe that you will give your producers a real chance to diversify, to compete, to win markets, and to prosper. At a time when people are rightly concerned about the threats of global competition and changing market patterns, I do believe that the organic approach offers an opportunity that demands your close attention.