The following day at Guaya’b an annual inspection took place conducted by BSC-Oko Garantie, a German organic certifier. Three inspectors arrived and with two of them we conducted some inspections. I accompanied Miriam to check the coffee plots along with two of the Guaya’b staff. There are many organisations that conduct organic certifications. BCS-Oko conducts inspections on a range of food products, particularly bananas, pineapple and cocao.
For our inspection, we checked a number of different plots. Beforehand, Miriam from BCS-Oko talked with Guaya’b staff and checked the internal inspection notes of many plots to decide which ones to visit. She checked over some statistics for the co-op, such as size of the organic areas, total volume of organic exports (also any transition areas) and which areas cater specifically for North America or Europe. For the inspections, anything that might be a concern or require a check was noted. Internal inspections are conducted at least once per year, but it is impossible for an external inspection to visit every plot, so it is only those that Miriam deems of possible concern that are inspected.
Miriam told me of some of the things BCS-Oko look out for. The typical concerns are the location of the coffee plot relative to other conventional plots. At one plot a drainage channel was under construction that would take any potential chemical runoff from a neighbouring conventional plot away from the organic one. Also we checked the soil of the plots to get an idea of its fertility and/or evidence of chemical input. Leaf rust (royo) can detrimentally affect the coffee bushes as well, so evidence of this is noted.
The co-op pays for the inspection and the cost depends on what is required and the size of the areas to be inspected. Inevitably, the inspection costs are absorbed by the farmers themselves. It’s obviously difficult to inspect in detail these plots but I was a little surprised at how brief some of the inspections were. My guess is that on some plots Miriam was looking only for specific things noted from the internal inspections. I didn’t get a chance to ask Miriam if there was any cause for concern with the plots but I didn’t detect anything she was particularly concerned about.
It was interesting to get an insight into how the process works, but it was clear from my experience the previous day that the internal inspections are conducted in more detail than these organic ones. It’s clear that retaining organic certification is important, particularly for the farmers. The amount of work they have to put in to obtain (and retain) organic certification is significant, but certainly for some it is not worth the extra effort, or they do not have the means to do so. More and more Fair Trade coffee is certified organic as well, and the quality is certainly higher, but I think sometimes we in the developed world get a little too carried away with demanding ‘labels’ on products without giving due consideration to the demands this places on the farmers themselves.