IFOAM – Organics International President Karen Mapusua catches up with The Organic Guy and talks about food systems, smallscale farmers in the Pacific, and setting priorities for the organic movement.
Organic Guy: Through your work with smallholder farmers in the Pacific, how have you felt that they view organic?
Karen Mapusua: The Pacific is interesting because the green revolution didn’t really touch us. We grow different crops, so really, until only 20 years ago, we were organic by default. We have really diverse, complex agroforestry systems as the basis of our food system. When you talk to smallholder farmers about organic in the Pacific, it goes straight to their hearts. They go: “ah, yes, what my grandparents did!” or “What my father did!” So there’s a close connection to the land, to food, to production.
Moving from that traditional concept of organic into certification and markets is not that difficult. In the Pacific, we work a lot with Participatory Guarantee Systems. Our focus isn’t so much on export. We have some crops that are focused on export, like coconuts – but food security, and protecting our environment and reefs – they’re the things that are really the heart and soul of the organic movement in the Pacific region.
OG: The Food Systems Summit was recently held. Moving forward, how do you see organic playing a role in shaping the next summit and food systems as a whole?
KM: I think organic plays a critical role. We can’t have food systems that feed us but damage the environment or don’t nourish us. What organic brings to the table is a system that is going to rebuild our environment, support biodiversity and support human health — not just through removing pesticides and dangerous substances from our food system, but also by growing more nutritious food products.
I believe it’s important that we have a relationship with our food, and with organic, there are often shorter value chains. You can know your farmer and know where your fruit and vegetables come from. That’s part of that whole picture of building a food system that isn’t removed from us, but close to the farmers and close to the land that produces our food.
OG: You’re now president of IFOAM – Organics International. We’ve seen that some of the things close to your heart are women and youth involvement. From this position, what are some of the priorities that you’re looking to work on?
KM: It’s always hard to set priorities when there are so many areas of work needed. One of the big priorities for us as an organic movement is really identifying where we can add the most value. Where can we provide the most support to farmers, to the movement? A lot of this has to do with refining our work on policy support and advocacy, as well as linking organic agriculture production to the big issues – climate change, biodiversity loss… If we can do that, that will also help our governments understand the importance of supporting organics and organic farmers, and change the policy environment.
Women – we hold up half the sky! But often, women have an undervalued or under-recognised role in agriculture. We need to lift that up. I also don’t like the expression that young people are the leaders of tomorrow. Young people lead today! That’s something that we’re really looking to support in the organic sector. Youth in the sector are our leaders and inspiration. We have to continue to support them.
“Food security, protecting our environment and reefs – they’re the things that are really the heart and soul of the organic movement in the Pacific region.”
OG: Do you have a message for the organic community?
KM: I don’t have a message for the organic community. We know what we’re doing! My message is for the rest of the world: eat organic! Buy organic! Support our farmers! When you do that, you not only help yourself, you help the planet. We all need to work together to get through the challenges that we’re facing.
Originally published by The Organic Guy.