The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) has proposed to allow farmers to apply online to seek a no objection certificate (NOC) if they want to change certification agencies for organic produce. However, experts see the move as not addressing the core issue of making a farmer’s “hasslefree and timebound” transition from one agency to another.

The issue has been pending since last year, when it was found in Madhya Pradesh that fictitious organic produce growers’ groups got listed in the internal control system (ICS) mechanism under the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP). Later, APEDA suspended some certification companies, while some other firms announced the discontinuation of certification in commodities such as cotton and soyabean.

Some farmer groups had approached APEDA in March this year, complaining that they were not getting an NOC from the mandator and wanting to move to another certification agency or form a different grower group. Mandator is the service provider between the farmer and the trader.

Following this, APEDA has now proposed to allow farmers to fill up details like name, address, contact number, Aadhaar, and registration number online on a portal, which will be validated through SMS, sources said. This will minimise the role of mandators, and no NOC will be required from them to shift to a new certification body, the sources said.

lack of awareness

However, experts point out that many farmers are not aware of their own organic “registration number,” since those data are maintained by the mandators, and if farmers are asked to mention that in the online form, they will have to go back to the mandators to get it. APEDA had in 2016 allowed farmers to seek help from certification agencies if any mandator refused to issue an NOC, whereas it has been seen that exporters, mandators, and certification bodies all work in cohesion as a result, and farmers do not get redress.

This initiative of APEDA will enable an organic farmer to obtain a NOC from his existing grower group and to join a new grower group that he or she wants to join, said trade policy analyst S Chandrasekaran. However, this is not the final solution; he added that the NOC should be time-bound and hassle-free.

Need transparency

“The grower groups never share the farmer’s identification number with his members. Until transparency improves in the system, organic farmers will have difficulty exercising their rights. For instance, the language of the organic agriculture software operated by APEDA, called TRACENET, is English. Unless it is also made available in Hindi and other regional languages, how will farmers have access?” asked Chandrasekaran.

The lack of financial audit in NPOP is the source of pilferage of organic farmers’ income and also a weakness in the system in supporting the profiteering activities of mandators and traders, experts said. Further, the high certification cost and in-built maneuvering procedures of NPOP with the view of preserving the trader’s interests in grower groups prevent individual organic farmers and co-operatives from participating in the organic agriculture movement, said Chandrasekaran.

The export of organic products certified under the NPOP Standards was 4.60 lakh tonnes ($ 771.96 million) during 2021–22. The major export destinations include the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, and Ecuador. Apart from cotton, other organically grown exported items include processed food products, oilseeds, spices, rice, and millets.