Winrock volunteer and organic agriculture expert Charles Mitchell traveled to Cuba last month to participate in the country’s first ever National Conference on Organic Certification, where he shared his expertise as both an organic farmer and organic inspector in the United States and Canada.
Building on the initial Winrock-sponsored exchange in March, the Asociacion Cubana de Tecnicos Agricolas y Forestales (ACTAF) invited Mitchell to present at this historic event at the Ministry of Agriculture in Havana. Helping inform 40 participants from various governmental organizations — as well as farmers, processors, researchers and students about the organic certification process — Mitchell outlined the general crop production standards of the U.S. National Organic Program (NOP), discussing inspector qualifications and the inspection process.
Representing ACTAF, Pedro Gavilanes led the discussion on the planned implementation of Sistema Participativo de Garantia (PAAC), a local Cuban certification process, which is a separate but similar organic standard to other international standards established by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. These standards are the basis for all the current country-based standards in the U.S., Canada, the European Union, along with other smaller country standards. ACTAF has been working directly with the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture to bring more awareness of the benefits of the PAAC system, in order to expedite its approval.
Mitchell explains that one significant value of the conference was the ability to highlight the importance, to policymakers in Cuba, of implementing a process whereby small producers can market their organic certified products to a variety of buyers. “[The advantage of PAAC] is that is simpler for small farmers to get into local markets, sell to tourists, and hotels,” he said. “[It] could have the potential to open these markets for smaller producers, as well as give consumers some confidence that the product was actually produced with organic methods.”
Winrock continues to look forward to future opportunities to share knowledge and support additional volunteer exchanges with ACTAF and Cuban farmers.