ACCRA, GHANA - In Ghana and elsewhere in West Africa, organic food is growing in popularity as people try to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. But organic produce is not easily regulated and consumers are paying extra for unverified claims.
Farmers across the region have created their own system, with support from international bodies, to certify organic produce.
Organic farmer Kobina Hudson grows about 40 different types of vegetables and fruits in Ghana. Up until about a year ago, the only way his customers could be assured of his organic practices was by trusting his explanations.
But now, across Ghana, farmers like him are taking part in a Participatory Guarantee System (PGS).
Farmers monitor each other to follow organic guidelines, with spot checks, reviews of practices and knowledge-sharing. Their products are then certified organic, to sell to local markets.
Hudson is a strong proponent of the system. Before its introduction, he would have to explain his farm and practices to customers, even inviting them to visit the farm themselves.
"With PGS, it's a certificate, so it's always easier if you can say that 'this body, you can call this body, I'm registered with them - they have certified me.' That's why I definitely want this PGS to work," Hudson said.
PGS organic agriculture schemes are used across the world. This system is also used in Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo, Nigeria and Senegal.
PGS was introduced to Ghana in 2017 by an international organics organization, with Abosede Olawumi Benedict hired as Ghana's coordinator. While the program is in its early stages in Ghana, she hopes COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, will encourage more farmers to become interested.
"Many people in Ghana just say, 'I do organic', and they don't really have the deep understanding of what organic is, so it's been a challenge. But we kind of see a new dimension with COVID-19, so many people really want to be sure now that what they are eating that has been labeled organic, is organic," Benedict said.
While there are other certification systems farmers can access in Ghana, these are expensive processes and aimed at export markets, Benedict added.
Yusif Musah Idrisah, a municipal crops officer working in the Eastern Region, is encouraging farmers to sign up with PGS.
"PSG [sic] will really help farmers because a lot of farmers shy away from certification - but if it is with PSG [sic], it's quite cheap, very affordable and friendly."
In West Africa, like across the world, there is growing consumer demand for organic food.
While Simply Healthy in Accra sells mostly imported health foods and supplements, founder Amma Asafo-Agyei says customers are asking for local, organic products. Local organic certification would benefit producers as well as consumers here, she says.