Now, two years later, they have gained the required certification, and he says: “It’s a big step forward for the Cook Islands in terms of certification, and we’ve been working on this for years and finally that has arrived.”
He is very happy to report that the 10 growers that have achieved certification can now sell their produce under the organic classification standard.
“Our guarantee to our consumers is that there are no chemicals or pesticides used in the product, and that our famers, who produce or grow crops under the system, have been educated on how to grow them without using chemicals”
Iro says it’s been a long road for farmers who wanted to sell their products as organic, as there are numerous rules and regulations to learn.
He points out using chicken manure in agriculture as a prime example of what’s not acceptable, as the chicken’s feed could have been pumped full of hormones.
“Workshops were held on all these small issues that we take for granted and yet are not allowed.” He adds that along with the 10 farmers that have been accredited so far, TGA are working with other growers through an “un-conversion” process to become certified, as well as others coming on board to register their interest.
Once a grower is certified the produce is then sold under the umbrella of Natura Kuki Airani - NKA organics.
One question remains for Iro, who asks, “Can we produce enough of this environmentally-friendly food to meet consumer demand?”
So he is hesitant to advertise at the moment, as he anticipates there being a greater consumer demand than what the TGA can deliver at present.
Their stall was certainly a success at this year’s World Food Day, held at the Punanga Nui market.
Iro says anyone involved in growing is welcome to come in and check out organic growing methods and you don’t have to be certified immediately.
Tikioki grower and TGA deputy chairman Ray Preston has been growing for seven years and is convinced the only way to grow is organic.
He grows a variety of produce such as bananas, passionfruit, lemons, and avocados.
At the start of the certification process for TGA he said, “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.”