ChewsWise Blog

ChewsWise Blog

First, It Was Organic v. Local

Now it's Organic v. Fair Trade. William G. Moseley points out in the San Francisco Chronicle that tensions are growing acute between these two movements, spurred out by the demand for local food. (Via Lainie's awesome Organic Confidential blog).

If local is the new organic, and demand for imported organic food drops off, then African farmers who depend on organic export markets will have no alternative but to produce conventionally grown food for export. Local activists respond that these farmers should focus on local markets in Africa, but Moseley says they've already done that.

Many farmers in the poorest of African nations - where I do my research - already supply local markets with their grains and produce. While not formally recognized as such, these markets are virtually organic because most poor African farmers restrict pesticide use to traditional export crops such as cotton, cacao and coffee, while local foodstuffs are grown with few or no chemical inputs.

If the local food movements in Europe and North America reduce their demand for organic and fair trade products from afar, the most likely consequence is that African farmers who have entered these niche markets will return to producing their export crops in the conventional, pesticide-intensive manner. While local food markets can provide some income for these farmers, they still are reliant on export opportunities for the bulk of their cash income.

Food miles gives a one-dimensional view of socially responsible food production, though the reality is more complicated. The Soil Association tried to tackle this issue by seeking a fair trade designation for any air shipments of organic food -- a noble step, but one which might still limit these markets.

The question I had after reading Moseley's piece was whether some, all or most exports actually create cash for farmers, or whether these markets follow the plantation model and siphon cash out of the local economy. Again, I would think the answer is not simple.