New organic rules could harm Fairtrade co-ops, EU warned

The new rules would limit the size of producer co-ops, making it harder for them to achieve economies of scale

Fairtrade International has warned that small farmers’ co-ops will struggle to survive under new organic regulations proposed by the EU.

The proposed EU Organic Regulation – due to come into force on 1 January 2021 – will limit co-ops and producer groups receiving its certification to 1,000 members and individual farm sizes to five hectares.

Campaigners say this will force small-scale farmers to restructure their co-ops, and creating high costs when they are already struggling to make ends meet.

Nearly half of all Fairtrade producers also farm organically, says Fairtrade International. It fears that around 100 Fairtrade small producer organisations, representing more than 400,000 smallholder farmers, stand to be affected by the rule change. Worldwide, it will affect more than 2.6 million organic producers.

Being able to group together in larger co-ops or associations enables small-scale farmers to reduce costs, make joint investments and enjoy a stronger negotiating position.

“The proposed changes would force Fairtrade and organic certified co-operatives to split into smaller groups, taking away their right to self-determination and increasing their costs and paperwork,” says a statement from Fairtrade International. “Moreover, it risks making them into weaker entities that will struggle to compete and survive in global supply chains.”

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The new rules will also require producer organisations who export or process their product (for example coffee co-ops who roast and export their own coffee), to set up a separate entity for this purpose. Campaigners warn this would also create extra costs, and prevent many producers from moving up the value chain, seen as a key route out of poverty.

Organisations which stand to be affected include Conacado, a group of 150 cocoa co-ops in the Dominican Republic which represents more than 10,000 farmers.

Manager Abel Fernandez said: “This EU regulation is against rural development and against international co-operation. It limits opportunities for disadvantaged groups and for small producers like our members to grow. It also has the potential to damage, or even destroy existing businesses like ours, as we will not be able to stem the additional costs and red tape.”

Fairtrade International CEO, Dario Soto Abril, chief executive of Fairtrade International, added: “The new organic regulation is completely at odds with the EU’s self-proclaimed commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals of ending poverty and promoting sustainable production and consumption.

“It risks making organic certification too costly and complicated for small-scale farmers, shutting them out of European markets and the sales they need to feed their families. Fairtrade urgently calls on commissioner Wojciechowski to abandon these changes and instead find solutions which work for the millions of people who depend on small-scale organic farming for their livelihoods.”

Although Fairtrade International accepts that the certification of large groups can be a challenge, it wants the EU to rethink the change, and develop stronger assurance systems that can be adapted to different group sizes.

Representatives of the Fairtrade and organic movements are now seeking urgent discussions with the agriculture ministries of EU member states to find workable solutions for small-scale farmers and their families.