Is organic food more expensive to produce? Fact or fiction

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My work with small-hold cocoa farmers in Nicaragua has taught me that it is not true that organic production is more expensive, complicated to learn and unsustainable.
The Sustainable Agroforestry Cocoa Production Project (COCOA-RAAN) was implemented within the Autonomous Region of the North Atlantic, the largest in Nicaragua, with a budget of just US$ 1.9 million.  
The project, financed by the Japanese Social Development Fund, demonstrated that not only is organic production cheaper than conventional production, it also increases productivity, improves the environment as well as quality of life for farmers and offers the buyer a healthier final product.

For this project, farmers were trained in low-cost organic production techniques such as  preparing  compost heaps to produce compost and fertilizers for their fields. Before working with the COCOA-RAAN, farmers had to buy expensive fertilizers, which were also costly to transport and apply.

Transporting fertilizer from Managua to the Autonomous Region – located in the northeast of the country in the buffer zone of the world’s third largest biosphere, BOSAWAS- costs approximately US$ 1,000 per 200 quintals. Members of the cooperatives then had to pay to have it delivered to their respective farms, which are spread out throughout the area.

Now farmers like Omar Sujo, a member of the Bonanza Cooperative, prepare compost and organic fertilizer on their farms in just a month – a significant reduction in production time, which has also eliminated the need to use seedbeds. Savings are approximately 70%.

Don Omar also noted that planting on the farm saves an average of US$28 per hectare compared with planting seedbeds in greenhouses, and US$ 56 when transporting the seedbed to the farm, not including approximately US$ 1,400 per hectare for labor. Additionally, around 10% of the plants die when seedbeds are transported to the farm with a further 15% perishing during replanting. With this project, plant mortality dropped by 70%.

Plant stress has also been reduced. In eight months, the plants grow 90 centimeters high and 2.5 centimeters thick. These plants will be ready to produce in two years as compared to the four years required by the previous plants.

The higher price paid for organic cocoa is another major advantage and incentive. Organic cocoa sold to RAAN goes for approximately US$200 more than conventional cocoa. While the market price is higher, production costs are considerably lower and plants grow more quickly, which as a result, significantly increases farmers’ incomes.

Today COCOA-RAAN is contributing to safeguarding the third largest forest reserve in the world and largest in Central America. This is thanks to its clear strategy for beneficiary participation and capacity-building, continuous investment in human capital as well as the involvement of  men, women and young people  in creating household protected spaces and improve living conditions, all of which pay special attention to environmental conservation.

The project has demonstrated that organic production is not more expensive. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It is cheaper than conventional production. What’s more, organic production also increases productivity as well as  improving both the environment and quality of life for farmers along with offering a healthier product to market.


Mary L. González

World Bank Senior Social Development Specialist

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