Rarotonga growers attended a three-day training programme last week to begin the process of building an organic Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) in the Cook Islands.
The training is facilitated by the Pacific Organic & Ethical Trade Community (POETCom).
Titikaveka Growers’ Association (TGA) chairman Teava Iro says they aim to put organic food on the map locally.
“We have been promoting and growing organic for years. Until now it’s just been talk - we need to have certification to make it a reality.”
Iro says the integrity of an organic product is ensured by a certification label, and consumers can be assured that they are buying organic.
“This way we are also assuring consumers that the environment is being cared for and that our focus is also on health.”
TGA treasurer Anthony Brown says organically produced food is about food security for the nation.
“Organic food is about all those things like shelf-life and nutrition but let’s face it, it is also about us! It’s about our health and about producing food for locals too.”
Local growers gathered at the SDA Hall in Papa’aroa to attend the training facilitated by POETCom’s coordinating officer Karen Mapusua and organic extension system officer Stephen Hazelman.
Brown says the TGA received funding for the training as part of the three year POETCom project in Cook Islands, Niue and the Republic of the Marshall Islands called Capacity Building for Resilient Agriculture in the Pacific, funded by the Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD).
The aim of the training was to begin the process of establishing a PGS, initially with a group of 10 growers, which will officially pledge to grow their crops organically.
Mapusua says part of the project also focuses on engaging youth in agriculture and key farmers will become mentors over the coming year.
Tikioki grower and TGA deputy chairman Ray Preston has been growing for five years and is convinced the way to grow is organic.
He grows a variety of bananas as well as passionfruit, lemons, and avocados.
“Even before I started growing I could see that conventional farming was destroying the environment. I hope that I can make a contribution towards growing organically,” says Preston.
Ministry of Agriculture Secretary Mat Purea opened the training on Monday, in addition to extension officer and TGA secretary Brian Tairea, who attended along with growers from two other associations in Rarotonga.
POETCom is the ‘governance’ body of the organics movement in the Pacific.
Membership of POETCom is broad-based and multi-sectoral, with representation from organic farmers, farmer organisations, traders, governments, academic and research institutions, NGOs, private sector businesses and regional technical support agencies such as FAO and SPC.