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Agriculture biologique en Martinique

Martine François
Roland Moreau
Bertil Sylvander

Synopsis and recommendations

Question 6. What conditions need to be created for organic farming in Martinique to be successful?

Texte intégral

A policy to develop organic farming

1An official policy to encourage the development of organic farming is a prerequisite for OF to develop in Martinique. European experiences analysed by researchers show that market forces alone are not sufficient for OF to expand rapidly. Decision makers have the challenge of introducing mixed policies that reconcile the imperatives of the market with OF's original aims and so maximise the benefits society can draw from it.

2Organic farming is still a new activity for which public support is justified on the following counts:

  • to extend consumer choice;
  • to enable OF to develop to the point where it can function independently and competitively;
  • for its contribution to a public good, the environment;
  • because only the public authorities can assist the risk taking, restructuring and learning process involved in converting to OF.

3The experience of OF's development in Europe shows that sustained growth of OF requires a genuinely proactive development policy, with a determined support policy in its favour. All European countries have introduced development plans for OF, as have other countries. One model for OF development in a small island is applied in the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

4In Martinique, given the acute problems of land availability and water quality for OF due to the presence of chlordecone, the authorities could consider taking initiatives to promote OF as a means of protecting the environment in areas that are still unpolluted. Also worth considering is an official initiative to convert the Galion sugar plantations and refinery, starting with a technical and economic feasibility study.

Farmer support

5Specific aid for organic farmers is essential if their produce is to be competitive, at least during the conversion period. This is provided for under the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy, at least for the conversion period, and some governments provide subsidies after that period. In some countries, regional authorities have added regional aid.

6In a parliamentary report drawn up as part of the debate on setting up a European action plan on OF, Martial Saddier recommends harmonising official support to continue farming, a measure organic farmers wanted, and which exists in almost all countries of Europe. This measure could provide an economic guarantee for producers to offset possible difficulties in adjusting supply to demand for organic produce during a production development phase.

7This measure could also be used to finance all or part of the cost of certification. This could be particularly helpful to smallholders, for whom the expense could be an obstacle to certification.

8If organic farming develops in a form that is not officially certified, i.e. through group or participatory certification, it will be necessary to consider adapting the aid provisions or creating new possibilities for aid compatible with this situation.

9At all events, administrative procedures should allow even the smallest-scale farmers to obtain the intended aid with as little red tape as possible. Some procedures, such as reimbursing expenses after submission of the invoice, are inappropriate.

Technical support and training

10Running an organic farm requires a high degree of skill and involves a different type of agronomic reasoning to that of CF, as well as specific techniques. This means that specific technical support and training systems for OF need to be set up, as farmers must be able to acquire these skills and knowledge.

11The technical support system could take several forms:

  • Given the lack of technical references, experimentation in conjunction with agricultural research is essential. Some OF systems have already been launched in Martinique through R&D and action research projects, at agricultural school pilot stations and the SECI station. These concern medium-sized farms; smallholdings have not been involved so far. The knowledge needed for managing OF systems in Martinique is being built up through these first experiments and the technical knowledge capitalised in liaison with the research community. Experiments of this kind could be conducted on pilot farms, involving the farmers directly.
  • It is essential to involve the rural and agricultural development structures (the Chamber of Agriculture and development association).
  • Agricultural training must take OF into account. Because one way forward for OF would be based on smallholders who have a second job, the agricultural training structures should offer suitable training courses for these farmers to give them the best possible chance of success in their ventures.
  • For agricultural technicians and teachers to be of real service to OF, they must first be trained in OF methods, and must be able to see for themselves the technical and economic efficiency of this mode of production in regions other than Martinique. Participation in working meetings on OF, study trips (e.g. to other Caribbean islands) and training courses for technicians and teachers must be considered.

Land policy

12In Martinique's particular case, the development of OF is closely linked to the question of land policy. To practice OF, farmers must have security of tenure; this question is particularly relevant for smallholders. Action could also be taken towards the possibility of organic and ecological farming in areas not now under cultivation.

Organising product chains: inputs and marketing

Organising input supply chains

13Any significant growth of OF or EF in Martinique will need a regional policy on processing organic waste and supplying it to farmers. Some of the experts point out that total availability is low, and that much of it is already utilised for conventional farming.

14As regards processing, various composting possibilities are of interest, mainly using sugar cane waste and natural products. Sewage station sludge, which constitutes a considerable resource, is not so far permitted for OF. But Martinique's sewage sludge is exceptionally pollutant-free and of exceptionally high fertilising quality. Nonetheless, sewage sludge has a very poor image with consumers and the official OF specifications currently guarantee consumers that it will not be used. The experts do not recommend seeking exemption from this provision for OF in Martinique.

15Even if measures are taken to optimise organic transfers, consideration should be given to making the subsidised import of certain fertilising elements mandatory in the medium term, as otherwise crop yields would not be high enough for OF to be economically viable.

Organising marketing and market development

16Market forces are not the only factor governing the development of organic farming. Environmental and social considerations also play a part, for consumers, producers and society as a whole.

17But the market cannot be ignored; it is essential to mobilise this force for the development of OF, in Martinique as in other regions.

18Organic farming must develop in step with progress in technical knowledge, but also with the development of the market. At the same time as OF develops, marketing channels and methods must make it possible to distribute output at prices compatible with the cost of production, while avoiding fluctuations. Producing organic crops for export requires a rotation system, so markets for the other crops in the rotation must be planned and organised.

19Regions and countries developing OF have taken steps to organise product chains and support market development.

20Policies of public procurement of organic produce have been adopted by many municipal and local authorities in France and the rest of Europe, from big cities like Rome, Paris and Vienna to the smallest villages (particularly in the south of France). The aim is both to develop and support the production and consumption of organic produce (procurement for school and public sector canteens in particular), and to reassure consumers about food quality and safety. Often these operations are coupled with dietary education drives.

21As regards the local market, the data examined for the expert group review hint at some interesting development possibilities. However, there has been no market study on OF produce, and one of the first actions to develop OF in Martinique should be to conduct a qualitative and quantitative market study to gather exact data on consumer expectations with regard to organic produce in Martinique. In particular, this study would have to shed light on the positioning of organic produce in relation to possible alternatives – "produits péyi", "farmhouse" products and "local" produce, fresh produce sold direct by the farmer, local meat. The study would also need to provide information as to prices acceptable to consumers and distributors, while the technical experiments mentioned above would provide information on farmers' production costs. Neither production costs nor acceptable market prices have been established to date.

22The first priority for developing the local market potential for OF could be direct sales initiatives – markets, AMAP consumers' associations, initiatives for on-farm sales coupled with farm tourism or natural heritage, etc. -while not neglecting long product chains.

Research to develop organic farming

Research and development of technical protocols

23From a technical standpoint, it is certainly possible to develop OF in Martinique. However, the OF systems suitable for different situations (taking agronomic factors, farmer profiles and agro-ecological conditions into account) have not been established. Research is still needed to develop crop protocols for market garden crops and Caribbean food crops, and livestock husbandry systems that could be coupled with them. Data on production costs must also be produced.

24Research should also investigate the rest of the product chain: markets, marketing methods and labelling. Martinique's economic situation is quite distinctive, and models for developing organic products chains in metropolitan France or other countries are not directly applicable. At present, the economic data that would allow us to address these questions for Martinique are not available. But research has established that diversifying production in Martinique (such as organic produce), can only work if prospects for selling the products are properly known in advance.

25As regards the local market, data are needed on consumers' expectations regarding organic produce, the position of organics in comparison to products regarded as similar, i.e. mainly local produce, "produits péyi" and farmhouse products. Given the current structure of organic farming, which is mainly practiced by smallholders, research should also examine the type or types of certification appropriate in Martinique for the island's consumer market of residents and tourists. In particular, it could examine possible ways of applying group certification as envisaged by IFOAM, or participatory certification.

26Product chain surveys should be carried out, in the light of the experiments on new rotations and cropping protocols and in liaison with processors, marketing chain operators and farmers interested in organics, to determine product markets and short-term sales prospects as precisely as possible. A product-by-product approach would be particularly suitable for the sugar and banana sectors. A technical and commercial feasibility study of converting the Galion sugar refinery to organics may be worthwhile, both because of the emblematic nature of this product for Martinique and because sugar cane plays a part in many of the cropping systems that could be developed for OF in Martinique. As regards vegetables and kitchen garden crops, a survey of the local market should focus on sales potential in both long and short distribution chains. The potential for a public procurement policy should also be studied in detail. To address the question of "acceptable prices" for products, these market surveys should be based on productions costs established by research after technical experimentation. Experience in this field shows that it is high advisable to conduct such market and downstream product chain research in close liaison with farmers' production development projects. Organic farming must develop at the same pace as the distribution chains' marketing potential.

27One way forward would be for the R&D institutions to partner farmers wishing to convert to OF, or for pilot farms to be set up with an R&D strand included, to capitalise and disseminate the results.

28As regards the type of research that could be conducted to assist the development of OF, different countries have taken different routes. Some have formed teams specifically to work on OF issues, others have suggested OF research topics to researchers involved in designing more sustainable forms of conventional farming, extensive systems, low-input farming and IFS. In any case, research into OF requires researchers to commit themselves for a number of years.

Research structures

29Examples from metropolitan France show the value of research in which farmers and product chain stakeholders are closely involved to guide the work. The in-house committee on organic agriculture at INRA and the regional "partnerships of scientific interest" (GIS) for developing OF in the regions are examples of such initiatives, in which farmers are closely involved in decisions on the direction research is to take. An initiative of this type would be an asset in Martinique.

30Some more basic research could especially benefit from experience accumulated in the Caribbean. Examples would be an inventory of natural substances that could be used for OF in Martinique, systematic exploration of sources of protein and carbohydrate for animal feed, and an inventory of species that can be used for innovations drawing on the Creole gardens. As OF develops, there should be continual research into its consequences for the environment and society.

Networks and innovation

Involving stakeholders in organics networks

31Organic farming knowledge and skills are still limited and widely scattered. To develop, organic farming in Martinique would need to link up with national and international OF competency networks. Such networks exist for France, the Caribbean and internationally. By joining them, Martinique could promote and bear witness to its experience and take part in ongoing debate about directions for OF in the relevant areas.

32Networking regionally, nationally and internationally is important for all product chain stakeholders – producers, decision makers, researchers, trainers, each in their own field. Some initiatives have already been taken, and should be continued and intensified. Some farmers have already been on study trips to countries producing organic bananas.

33This type of initiative could also involve those farmers with the smallest holdings. Expert missions have already taken place, promoting other experiences in the Caribbean. Networking could be useful to consumers too; the Biocoop network is one opportunity for structured dialogue between consumers, producers and distributors.

Organic farming development and certification in Martinique

34Current regulations are appropriate mainly for production conditions in temperate countries. It may be necessary to study the regulations closely and consult with the certifying bodies and the Ministry of Agriculture to identify any specific features of tropical regions that are poorly taken Into account in existing regulations, with a view to obtaining exemptions that would help OF develop.

35For produce intended for export, the European OF certification system is inescapable.

36However, the small economic size of some holdings (run part-time) raises the problems of the expense and red tape of this certification system. It can be a real obstacle for some smallholders wishing to convert to OF and aiming to supply the local market. Perhaps this question should be discussed with the certifying bodies and the agriculture ministry (OF section), to consider the possibility of a special system for some structures. Existing regulations already allow particular exemptions for small-scale livestock enterprises (smallholdings and small groups of unsupervised free-range poultry). Some regions finance part of the cost of certification through "aid to continue farming". IFOAM argues for a certification procedure better suited to small farms: group certification based on a system of validated internal control by the group of farmers. This could be one way forward for Martinique's smallholdings.

37Another possibility, put forward by some voluntary organisations in Martinique, is "participatory certification" by groups that include farmers, consumers and possibly other stakeholders, as a means of social control. This type of system is in operation in Brazil, and Nature et Progrès operated such a system in the early stages of OF's development in France. It could be considered, to run concurrently with official organic certification.

38Discussion about the best forms of certification for OF and EF in Martinique could be started by organising collaboration between researchers, farmers, consumers and other OF stakeholders.

Development of organic farming, innovation and social change

39In comparison to the current development of conventional farming and its product chains, the development of OF is an innovation, and as such is first and foremost a social phenomenon. Innovation alters the systems of interest among stakeholders in the product chains and in society, which naturally generates a division between opponents and supporters of the process. Decision makers have the tasks of finding points of common interest that may sway public opinion towards developing OF in Martinique, and of proposing solutions for a way forward in which none of the stakeholder groups lose out. Protecting Martinique's environment and strengthening its agricultural and culinary identity by promoting local breeds, crops and varieties are emblematic issues that connect with OF.

40There is a real convergence between conventional agriculture as it seeks to become more environment-friendly, and the development of organic farming methods. OF research findings can be used in CF and vice versa.

41As far as we know, no OF development study has covered this aspect, but the questions raised by the coexistence of OF pioneers and new OF practitioners are present in all the environments examined in the course of this review.

© IRD Éditions, 2005

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