This video was shown on Nicaraguan television and shows the Central American stand at BIOFACH, the World Organic Trade Fair in Nürnberg Germany.  At the end of the video you can see our Del Campo display of organic sesame in the glass case, and below it some bags of hibiscus flowers, cashew nuts, and peanuts which the cooperative also produces.  Having worked on organic farms in the States for several years and now with small farmers and organic farming initiatives in Nicaragua, it was quite a different thing to see the international trade side of the Organics world.

The fair is enormous.  In four days if I had done nothing but wander through the halls I doubt I would have seen everything.  the investments in temporary booths were astounding – cheese companies with life size cow sculptures, natural food distributors who had bordered their section with fully grown bamboo trees growing in enormous pots.  The halls sparkled, and then of course were all the free samples.  The Central American booth was a bit out of synch with the rest of the fair.  Paid for by a European company as an act of charity, it was located in the European hall between Switzerland and Italy, and had an enormous European flag at the top of the booth.  Next to the european flag the banner announced:  Central America, Mexico, Cuba.  Actually the booth housed a hodgepodge collection of Honduran, El Salvadoreñan, Guatemalan, and Nicaraguan sellers. Frankly, we found it a bit pathetic that the European donor paid to have their own flag and logo larger than any other, and mushed us all together without any definition between companies.  That being said, our important buyers found us.

A small part of BIOFACH is presentations.  There are different themes; this year two big themes were natural cosmetics and fair trade – organics.  I went to a marketing talk, one on organic farming and climate change, and another on small farmers and how fair trade and organic supports them.  All the topics were fascinating and relevant, and the speakers were certainly qualified.  Unfortunately, I came away with a bitter feeling of disillusionment.

At the climate change presentation, the first presenters showed scientific data showing how proper organic soil management can sequester enormous amounts of carbon, and how even with land conglomeration, small farmers own 40% of the worlds arable land.  If that forty percent were farmed according to the health of the soil, small farmers substantially slow climate change.  Problem is, the talk highlighted an innovative new certification system based in Sweden that calculated carbon footprint as part of the certification.  Good for Sweden, but no one seemed to catch the irony between the educated white men on the stage first claiming that small land holders (concentrated mostly in Asia, Africa, and South/Central America) switching to organic could have a significant effect on our climate, and then extolling a certification system that not in a hundred years was going to change how those small holders farmed the majority of their land.

The ritzy environment of the trade fair did nothing to assuage my cynicism.  Business suited men and women, the majority European (which figures: Europe is the worlds largest certified Organic consumer, importer, and also the location of the fair), professionally displayed their healthy and environmentally conscious processed products, and the assumption was that their product was clearly benefitting the worlds invisible small and organic producers behind their fancy cheeses and gourmet bread.

I would like to see an analysis on whether the growth of the organic market has affected the majority of small landholders in the world.  My guess is that the answer is not as straight forward as marketers would like us to think.  Here, small farmers certify their sesame and coffee for export, and then use chemical fertilizer on their corn if they can afford it.  In China, small farmers use high doses of chemical fertilizers on their market crops, but farm their own garden patch organically.  The biggest national force in Nicaragua behind small farmer organic and sustainable agriculture is possibly the Campesino a Campesino movement, a Central American movement started in Mexico by proponents of Agroecology, who do not have a vision of exporting or certifying any of the crops but promote an integrated farming system that is healthier for the soil and workers, because.  Just because.

Don’t get me wrong, I will still buy my organic coffee and milk.  Organics are not bad.  It just needs to get beyond its enormous ego, to realize that it isn’t the international certifications that are going to change the whole world and reach into every corner, and that there are many many little ants working hard to battle against the agrichemical marketers that have done a much more effective job of reaching into the nooks and crannies.