“We have to focus on sustainability”

By

Claudia Jordan
Karen Mapusua, President of IFOAM Organics International Network, on the danger of the current fuel crises and inflation to loose track in sustainablity, why organic farmers should be heard and how the word “crisis” has a very different meaning where she lives in Fiji.

Rising sea levels, higher temperatures and an increase in extreme weather events - climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing Fiji and the island states of Oceania. ©Alec Douglas, Unsplash, 2023

By Karen Mapusua

Karen Mapusua is President of IFOAM Organics International (2021) and is the Director of the Land Resources Division of the Pacific Community based in Fiji providing scientific and technical support in agricultural development, serving 22 Pacific Island states. She has a background in NGO capacity building and management and has worked in rural development in the Pacific islands region for close to 20 years with a focus on organic agriculture as a path to social and economic development. She co-founded the Pacific Organic & Ethical Trade Community (POETCom), and was extensively involved in developing the Pacific Organic Guarantee Scheme and developing alternative forms of certification that empower farmers.

All contributions

Ms. Mapusua, the Inter-continental Network of Organic Farmer Organisations (INOFO), as a self-organised structure within the IFOAM Network, has just published a new strategy. Why is this important?

Karen Mapusua: I think it's important for INOFO as a new organisation to understand its own direction but also to position itself in relation to organic agriculture, sustainability and agriculture in general. There has been a lack of clear voice from organic farmers in many of these discussions. Farmers do tend to get lumped together but organic farmers have something particular to offer. Outlining the strategy is going to really empower our Inter-continental Network of Organic Farmer Organisations to put that forward. Not only in the farmers’ forums, but also into the broader organic discussion across the whole value chain. If we lose the voice of the farmers in that, we lose the essence of what organic agriculture is about. It is transforming the whole agriculture and all of our value chains. It helps to be more sustainable, more just and equitable.

 

If we lose the voice of the farmers, we lose the essence of what organic agriculture is about.

 

What are your main take-aways and hopes after Biofach 2023?

It's been great to see the energy again. At last year's fair, we just came out of COVID and it was wonderful but there's still more energy here this year. A lot of my time is spent meeting delegations, so I haven't been on the floor very much. But the few opportunities I've got to go out and speak to people, everyone is enthusiastic and hopeful. They recognise that there are some challenges at the moment. But I think everyone can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And we're focusing on that. It's been a really positive wake.

 

I think everyone can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

 

What challenges are you referring to?

There is an economic challenge and a downturn worldwide. It looks different everywhere. And of course in Europe, there's conflict, that's another challenge for this particular part of the world and has an impact on the rest of us as well. I think there is a challenge of an overreaction to that. As food prices go up and as people see the conflict is going on, there is a bit of a push back to say: "Well, at the moment, we can't be sustainable. We just got to get food.” And that puts at risk a lot of really good policy processes.

 

What is your hope for farmers' organisations to transform the agricultural system?

That's where strategic and organisational development of farmers' organisations is really important. So that they can interact in a more powerful way. And I think the voices are there. They have been a little bit overshadowed by that larger economic fuel crisis discussion. But they just have to keep moving on. Because a short-term reaction now is only going to make it worse later on. We've got to focus on sustainability. We can't get distracted and just forget about climate for a while. Because climate is still changing. So farmers' organisations have to keep everyone on point.

 

We can't get distracted and just forget about climate for a while. Because climate is still changing. So farmers' organisations have to keep everyone on point.

 

You are based in Fiji. You might have a very different perspective on these discussions?

It is really different. The pacific is almost exactly the opposite site of the world. Our focus as far as organic agriculture goes is less on market and exports and more on food security and building resilience for our systems. While we, as well as Germany, we've been impacted by inflation in the Fijis and the Pacific, we don't talk about it as if it were a crisis. It's like: Yes, there is inflation, yes, there are higher food prices. But we've got bigger things to worry about. With climate change, we've got real crisis. Fiji and the Pacific have been impacted by inflation, but we don't talk about it as if it were a crisis. We've got bigger things to worry about. With climate change, we've got real crisis.

 

It's less about money, but about existance?

Exactly, it's a much more existential question. We've also got systems we don't necessarily have in Europe. Pretty much everyone has a farmer in his family and land they can fall back on. We saw that during COVID, when our borders shut for two years. Fiji's very much focused on tourism – we had no tourists for two years. People went back to their villages, their farms, grew food. And we didn't suffer as much as we could have, if we didn't have that social security net which is based on the land.

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