In India, Agricultural Processed Foods Export Development Authority (APEDA) under Ministry of Commerce is the controlling body for organic certification for export. Till date there are no domestic standards for organic produce within India. Currently 11 certification agencies have been authorized to undertake certification process under National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP). Although there is no system for monitoring the labeling of organic produce sold within India, this primarily effects the retail public. Commercial buyers for whom this is an issue have simply taken the export system as a de facto standard and are willing to pay premium prices for produce from growers certified under the NPOP.
Internationally, equivalency negotiations are underway, and some agreements are already in place, to harmonize certification between countries, facilitating international trade. There are also international certification bodies, including members of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA), and Ecocert. Where formal agreements do not exist between countries, organic product for export is often certified by agencies from the importing countries, who may establish permanent foreign offices for this purpose.
In 2006, India’s organic certification process under NPOP has been granted equivalence with European Union. It has also been recognized for conformity assessment by USDA’s NOP.
Principal of Standards
The organic certification process in India follows a set of standard guiding principals laid down by National Program for Organic Production (NPOP). They are as follows.
- Conversion of land for Organic Farming must be done.
- All inputs to the farm should be natural.
- No Genetically Modified inputs or Irradiation technology should be used.
- Integrity of all processes (physical, biological, mechanical) must be maintained at all times.
- No contamination from nearby farms or other means must be present.
- Sustainable practices must be followed in the farm.
Process of Organic Certification in India
Large scale farmers or small size land holder growers groups (minimum of 25 and maximum of 500 farmers having lands in the same geographical area) can apply for Organic certification of their produce. It is to be noted that the land is not certified as organic. Rather the produce from it is certified.
APEDA offers an internet based e-service called Tracenet to collect, record and report data on organic certification and thus facilitating the process of organic certification. It is also used to trace any organic produce all the way to the farm from anywhere in the supply chain.
Organic certification process is carried out by accredited bodies under NPOP. The process of Organic certification in a nut shell is as under:
- Receipt of application by any accredited organic certification body from farmer(s).
- The certification body provides standards and operational documents to farmer(s).
- There is an agreement of roles and commitments between the farmer(s) and the body.
- Demand of fees by accredited body.
- Document audit.
- Regular Field inspection by internal quality system manager and external inspector and documentation of the same.
- Compliance verification through inspection and audits.
- Preparation of reports by the field inspector.
- Review of report by a reviewing body.
- Decisions on certification.
Record-keeping covering all activities,must be available for inspection at any time. In addition, short-notice or surprise inspections can be made, and specific tests (e.g. soil, water, plant tissue) may be requested. For first-time farm certification, the soil must meet basic requirements of being free from use of prohibited substances (synthetic chemicals, etc) for a number of years. A conventional farm must adhere to organic standards for this period, often, three years. This is known as being in transition. Transitional crops are not considered fully organic. A farm already growing without chemicals may be certified without this delay. Certification for operations other than farms is similar.
A fee is to be paid by the grower to the certification body for annual survellence and for facilitatining a mark which is acceptable in the market as symbol of quality. The typical expenditure on getting organic certification for Individual farmers varied within Rs.25,000/- to Rs.40,000/- while for farmer groups it varies between Rs.40,000/- to Rs.1,00,000/-.
The field inspection is one of the most important process step in Organic Certification in India. Here is a summary of the inspection methods.
- Visit of external inspector to fields and facilities.
- Review of records and accounts.
- Calculation of input and output norms and preparation of production estimate from a farm.
- Assessment of production system
- Interview with responsible person(s).
- Risk assessment from neighboring farms.
- Inspection of use of any GM products.
- Inspection of use of off-farm inputs.
- Analysis of residue tests by certified laboratories for pesticides, heavy metals if required.
- Inspection of sustainable practices.
- Inspection and study of entire production unit.
Organic certificate for any produce is valid for 3 years only. It must be renewed after expiry of 3 years.
The entire process of Organic certification involves a lot of record keeping and process steps. It may look daunting, but the organic certification adds a lot of value to the produce as the certification is accepted not only in India, but also in North America and EU. Customers are ready to pay a premium if they are assured what they are buying is actually organic and not fraudulent. The India Organic logo gives that assurance to the end customer.