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A study of Buyers’ and Sellers’ Perception of Organic Foods in Pakistan: Towards a More Effective Marketing Mix


Abstract:

Issues of food safety, nutritional value as well as environmental and ecological damage as a result of agricultural abuse have acquired global significance. Many people are looking for equitable, less cruel and sustainable answers to these problems. Organic foods / products are one such solution to people’s food and agricultural needs. Looking at the viewpoints of both consumers (including prospective consumers) and producers, this research undertakes to study the marketing mix of the organic foods / products market in Pakistan and explores marketing solutions to enhance its development (research objective). Using qualitative interviews and thematic analysis, respondents’ answers are coded and analyzed to put forward their opinions and recommendations for strengthening the marketing of the aforesaid products. The theme of the paper is marketing mix, with product, price, place, promotion and packaging being the relevant categories.

It was seen that almost all respondents considered chemical-free clean foods, more healthy, nutritious and tasty. Some purchased specifically organic foods for the purpose, some whatever clean and safe solutions (whether organic or not) they could conveniently find and some, though aware, were not involved enough to look for more healthy, safer or cleaner options than what they were already consuming. Price and availability were cited as the main reasons that deterred people from buying organic foods / products. However, many producers and even a few customers felt organic products were locked up in the narrow positioning of ‘rich man’s health foods.’ Hence there was a need to promote them more ‘holistically’ from the point of view of ecological and environmental safety, as well as more humane and sustainable alternatives to conventional agricultural produce. Responsibility for this needed to be shouldered by all stakeholders – consumers, producers, doctors, environmental and animal right activists and governmental agencies.

The purpose of the research is to present stakeholders of the organic foods market in Pakistan with an informed marketing perspective in order to facilitate them to take more effective decisions. A contribution of this paper thus lies in providing marketing knowledge and recommendations for the organic foods / products’ market in the country.

Keywords: organic products, marketing mix, qualitative

1. Introduction

The debate on whether the food we are eating is really safe for us and for the environment has gained inestimable proportions in not only Pakistan, but world over. People are grappling with issues of what is safe to eat and what not; what is clean and what isn’t; what food processing is cruel to animals and soil and what is more sustainable and humane (Bold et al, 2015; Chiew Shi Wee et al, 2014; Sirieix,2011 and Butt et al, 2005).

To resolve these issues many people are turning to organic farming and
organic foods. According to the World of Organic Agriculture 2010 study, the market for organic products has been growing at the rate of 10-15 per cent pa for the last ten years (Bartels and Berg, 2011).

In Pakistan too the food situation calls for attention. Though many people seem to be aware of the issues involved, at least to some extent, the market for safer,
cleaner, organic products in the
country
is
still small. Are people
aware of the differences between organically grown and conventionally produced
foods? Do
they have access to
organic foods? Do buyers and
sellers have different perceptions of
the prices and value of organic foods? Not many
researches have explored
these questions; those
that do
have
studied the scientific growth and benefits of organic foods but have not dealt with the marketing mix of these products, certainly
not in Pakistan (Mehmood et al, 2016; Butt et al, 2005; Jaffer and Masud, 2003). The objective of this paper thus is to study buyers’
and sellers’ perceptions of the
marketing
mix of organic foods in Pakistan and to
offer suggestions for improving their effectiveness.
It is hoped this research will be a small contribution towards knowledge and know how of the organic foods
market in the country.

For the purpose of this paper, the term ‘organic foods or products’ refers to agricultural produce grown using natural and environmentally safe methods and supplements. Food products prepared by hand, using at least some proportion of such produce, are also included in this definition. The word ‘seller’ or’producer’ describes the suppliers of such foods, while ‘buyers’ or ‘customers’ refers to current or prospective users (or non users so far) of such produce/products. Investigating their perceptions implies finding out their views and opinions about the characteristics of organic produce and products made from them, including their benefits, prices, accessibility, and packaging. Kotler et al (2010) have given the following definition of marketing mix: ‘the set of controllable tactical marketing tools – product (packaging included), place, price and promotion – that the firm blends to produce the response it wants in the target market’ (p.46) (for definitions of each of the above components, please refer to appendix A).

Qualitative interviews have been used in this study to elicit views and opinions of the buyers and sellers of organic foods. Respondents’ answers are presented in their own words, organized according to the marketing mix categories. Their suggestions regarding the aforementioned components of the marketing mix are also included in the respective categories. Findings are then analyzed using thematic analysis and discussed thereafter.

The purpose of this research is to enable buyers and sellers, as well as other stakeholders of the organic food market to obtain a more thorough description of the market that can enable them
to
make more
informed decisions
about their food choices
and marketing strategies.

2. Literature Review

‘The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself,’ American President Franklin Roosevelt once said. Our ancestors practised organic agriculture, or what was historically considered conventional agriculture, fairly peacefully for 12000 years before the advent of chemically intensive industrial agriculture disturbed this peace. Soil degradation, ‘superweeds’, ‘superbugs’, greenhouse gas emissions are some of the negative repercussions of this new mode of farming (Moyer, 2016). Worldwide we are losing more than 75 billion tons of soil each year, when it takes 500 years to form just 2.5cm of top soil! (Brown,2000). Farm pollution is the primary reason world’s rivers, lakes and bays are becoming polluted.

Agriculture is the main driver of deforestation, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations’s latest report (2016), although forests and trees support sustainable agriculture, stabilize soils and climate, regulate water flows and provide important sources of food, energy and income for millions of people around the globe. Farm income rather than farm stewardship has become the dominant goal of the times (Faber, 2016).

Untreated sewage sludge and canal waters are increasingly being used in Pakistan to grow vegetables. This is despite the fact that vegetables, especially leafy ones, absorb heavy metals from such water, even at long distances. Butt et al’s (2005) alarming research, for example, showed that the highest concentration of lead was found in sewage water grown spinach and coriander (14.25 mg/g and10.52mg/g respectively), the maximum amount of copper (34.3m g/g) in tinda; levels of cadmium varied from 0.29 to 2.95mg/g in these vegetables. Canal irrigated spinach also had the highest level of lead (9.72mg/g) and copper (10.75mg/g), while the other vegetables had varying levels. These metals pose grave health risks to consumers: chromium is a known cause of lung cancer; lead impairs functioning of kidney, liver and brain cells; and cadmium and its compounds produce chronic symptoms varying in intensity from irritation to metabolic disturbances (Jaffer and Masud, 2003).

Frequent use of pesticides too is leading to all sorts of chronic diseases in humans – diabetes, cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, birth defects, kidney and
cardiovascular diseases, to name a few.
“Considering that we share half of our genes with
fruit flies, it should be no surprise that pesticides harm people as well as pests’ (Moyer,
2016).

70-80 % of all antibiotics
produced are being used on farm animals to
make them grow bigger quicker but experts and environmentalists have been concerned about such flagrant abuse of these drugs since
the
1970s. ‘This is a perfect way to
breed resistant strains, which can find their way into humans.’
Growing antibiotic resistance is a ‘wake-up call’ for humans, Dr. Gould and Heilig solemnly warn
(Heilig, 2013).

Agricultural abuse is also the reason millions go hungry
each day. It is not lack of food but ‘poverty, politics and unfair profiteering,’
clarifies Lynda Brown, an acknowledged authority in the UK on organic foods and the author of several works and TV
shows, as well as an active member of various
movements on organic foods. ‘Respect nature and nature will be your best friend; and cooperation at all
levels, rather than destruction and domination, makes the best sense and bears lasting fruits,’
(2000:6) she advises.

At the heart of organic farming is the ‘belief that agriculture is our primary healthcare system
and that there is a direct link between the health of the soil,
that of the crops and
animals raised on it, and
ultimately
that of the people fed and supported by it’ (Brown, 2000:6). Chinese Green Food
Development Centre defines organic
farming as one
which
uses
crop rotation, naturally
produced compost and manure, biological pest control and
only
a limited amount of synthetic chemicals (Sirieix et al,
2011). Badgley et al (2007) also refer to organic farming
practices as those that may be called
agroecological, sustainable or
ecological, which utilize natural (non-synthetic) nutrient-cycling processes and exclude or rarely use synthetic pesticides to
sustain or regenerate soil quality. Organic is a form of farming that works with nature, rather than against it. (For more details on the sustainability
of organic farming,
see appendix B)

The word ‘organic’ was first used in 1940s on the pages of Organic Farming and Gardening, a magazine
devoted to agriculture without chemicals or more specifically
to counter the N-P-K (the NPK initials stand
for elements nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) mentality, which industry seemed to be applying
unquestioningly to solve all agricultural problems. Organic farming soon picked up and wholegrain and brown (rice, sugar, bread) foods became popular (Pollan, 2006), paving way for what are now called
organic foods. Today more and more people are turning to organically produced, ecologically safe
and sustainably produced food,
with organic food consumption growing
by almost 20% each year. It is estimated that o /rganic food sales account for more than 5% of all food sales worldwide (Brown, 2000).

Chiew Shi Wee et al (2014) describe organic foods as those that are safe to consume, are of fine quality and nutritious, are concerned with humane animal treatment, and are produced under the principle of sustainable development. More and more people are turning to organic foods because of their taste and healthful properties. Brown (2000) believes that organic foods are more healthy because they contain
no hydrogenated fats, preservatives, flavourings, artificial additives, antibiotics, or genetically modified ingredients. Moreover, they also have low nitrate levels and high minerals and vitamin C content, in addition to being made with love and care. Pollan (2006) also reports a study conducted by the University of California – Davis Research in 2003 which concluded that, in addition to the above, sustainably and organically grown foods had significantly higher proportion of phenols – metabolites manufactured by plants that have important antimicrobial and antioxidant properties that help prevent and fight cancer Chemically supported agriculture started in Pakistan around 40 years ago amid massive governmental and advertising campaigns in favour of urea, super phosphates, synthetic fertilizers and hybrid crops. Until then agriculture was based predominantly on organic manure, poultry fertilizer and simple mechanical equipment. But a growing population necessitated larger crop yields to which chemically based industrial agriculture provided a quick solution (interview, P5).

Waking up to
some of the detriments
of industrial agriculture, Pakistani policy makers and
researchers
are
also exploring
opportunities for organic production of fruits and vegetables in the country (see for
example, Butt et al, 2005 and Mehmood et al, 2016). The
introduction of the Intersectoral Nutrition
Strategy
has provided a structure
for
various provincial departments
to coordinate.
The Scaling
Up Nutrition (SUN) movement by the Ministry of Food Security and Research in 2013 has launched a number of nutrition-sensitive agricultural programs, such as those regarding introduction of better seeds
and agricultural technologies and more stringent regulations for fish, poultry and vegetable farming.
However, government’s main goal, as in several other
countries, remains to increase food production.
Needless to
say, more emphasis is required on better managing of agricultural finances, agricultural
research
and for improved cooperation and
coordination between
government departments of nutrition and agriculture (Bold et al, 2015).

Private sector too can play an instrumental role in this regard. Fortunately, independent small producers
have
begun (some for several years now) promoting home gardens and small sized farming. One of my
respondents P2,
who
is also a leading media personality
of the country, started organic farming in
Lahore back in 1993. ‘I was trying to find my identity. Felt cut off from real life.
I wanted to see what
village life was like.’ Despite having no money, family support or agricultural knowledge, she managed to collect a small group of family and friends to chip in for a plot of land to farm. To provide for regular
financial needs of the farm, she would work for an NGO. ‘Every week I collected litter from
neighbouring
houses to put into my compost dump. People laughed at me but one day they
saw
actual real compost in my pit. After that no one
made fun of me,’ she recollected with a smile (interview, P2).

Another one of my
respondents, P5,
used
media support some 15
years ago,
to invite educated urban dwellers to grow food at home. His Baghbani (‘gardening’ in Urdu) show followed by another episode
on kitchen gardening on television were
big hits. These
shows, coupled with growing social awareness
and education, made home farming
not only acceptable but almost a ‘social movement.’ Moreover, his
hippie appearance, casual
manner and simple language ‘brought it home,’ he triumphantly announced (interview, P5).

Concerted efforts by other similar minded growers reached fruition in the form of farmers’ markets.
Pakistan’s first farmers’ market was set up 3 years ago in Islamabad by Qasim
Tareen, who had previously been an investment banker in New York. This currently has a traffic of 150-200 customers a week
(interview,
P1).
Another group of men and women, who had independently been musing about
growing
their own
food
and
making it available in one place for others’ benefit too, came together in August 2015 to open Karachi Farmers’
Market (KFM). ‘Instead of working on demand, we decided to
provide a platform where buyers and sellers of organic produce could interact and
exchange. We have
provided a model which we are willing to share with anyone.’ Now this market has 20-25 regular
vendors of the
listed
60 and a footfall of 200-300
each week (interviews, P3
and P4).

3. Methodology

This research
has taken a closer look at the organic foods
market in
Pakistan, attempting to understand
the
marketing mix from
the
viewpoint of buyers and sellers. Conceived of in an interpretive paradigm (Burrell and Morgan, 1979), this qualitative paper used semi-structured interviews to elicit respondents’ views. A total of 21 such interviews were taken until saturation
of analytical categories: 8 interviews from
sellers /producers and the rest from
customers or prospective customers (including non users so far). Since existing research has shown
the
middle and upper middle classes to be the most likely
consumers or prospective consumers of organic
foods
/ products (see
for
example Ueasangkomsatea and Santiteerakulb,
2016 and Sirieix et al, 2011), convenience sampling
was
utilized for selecting buyers and prospective buyers (including non users) from these two classes in Karachi. Sellers, on the
other hand, were purposely handpicked from
the
list thankfully provided by the Karachi Farmers’ Market and included producers from various
cities of Pakistan (Wilson, 2014).

Most interviews were conducted face to face at respondents’
residences or at the Karachi Farmers’ Market. Those of respondents residing outside Karachi or not easily accessible were taken on the phone.
Face to face interviews were recorded digitally, while
telephonic interviews were hand written. Many
respondents spoke for around half an
hour but some keen producers took much longer. Non-users of organic products finished
off
earlier. Respondents were asked about their concept of organic foods,
their reasons for buying (or not buying) or selling them, and the marketing mix factors that were
encouraging or discouraging
their decisions. (Complete interview schedules can be found in appendix C.)

To triangulate producers’ viewpoints, an observation of the Karachi Farmers’ Market was carried out
one July morning. Data from this
session
was
helpful in
supplementing interview
data.

After transcription, respondents’
answers were coded according to the predetermined categories of
product, price, place, promotion and packaging that formed the marketing mix theme of the study (Bryman and Bell,
2003; Hycner, 1985).
Participants’
responses are presented collectively,
with
most representative answers quoted verbatim to clarify
categorical idea. Notes from the observation session are also added to the appropriate categories It is to be noted that the interpretation given to the
viewpoints of respondents
is
qualitative and hence personal to the researcher. Other researchers can
have their own interpretations and
methods of analyses. Next section presents these findings.

4. Research Findings

The following section presents the interview findings from
both the customer and producer groups. Participants’
responses are grouped together in the marketing mix categories of product, place, price,
promotion and
packaging (which
is
dealt as a
category
independent from product because it was felt it
warranted a
separate discussion).
Similar responses in each category are
discussed
together, often
clarified with the help of actual quotes of the respondents. Observational data is also added where
appropriate. In addition, each category also contains suggestions from respondents for enhancing the effectiveness of the marketing mix element under discussion. Participants’ identities are disguised under
alphabetical codes, using ‘C’ for customers (including users and non-users) and
‘P’ for producers.

Consumers
 have  been  grouped  according to their usage
 of
 organic,
 as  opposed  to industrial  or
conventional, foods: one group (4 respondents) was a regular buyer of organic foods; the second (3
respondents) sought clean chemical-free foods / products (whether produced organically or in any other
way). Because this group
sometimes had organic food
and at other times any safe and clean
food,
it is considered ‘occasional buyers’ in this study. The third (6 respondents) were only prospective (so far
non-users) of organic foods. All respondents in this group belonged to middle or upper middle class and had college
level or professional education.

Producer group includes 6 growers of organic
fruits
and vegetables and poultry
and 2
sellers of homemade food products (with at least some proportion of organic ingredients). These organic growers,
except one (who grows at home), had small farms ranging in size from 6 to 10 acres, that are run as
family or friends businesses. Of the 8, 6 producers were established
in Karachi, one belonged to
Islamabad
and another to Lahore. All of them came from well established, upper middle
class families
and had left / curtailed their professional careers in favour of organic food production.

4.1.
Product

All respondents in the customers category had some concept of organic foods. One of the regular

consumers gave a
very comprehensive definition of organic foods, ‘food produced in such a way that it is sustainable, doesn’t damage the environment, isn’t cruel to humans or animals beyond necessity;
holistically ethical…  [Considers]
 the  whole  – 
human  beings,  nature,
 plants, animals,
 using least
degrading  methods
 of  extraction.’ One  regular
 customer  C1,
 however,  found  the  word
 ‘organic’
superfluous. According
to
her, all foods, since they contain carbon compounds,
are organic. She liked
to
call fresh food free of additives ‘pure.’ These regular customers bought organic fruits, vegetables,
honey, chicken and homemade cheeses,
condiments,
and
sauces. Most of these belonged to
the upper middle
class localities and a few to
the middle. Almost all of them had
had professional education.

A small group of customers was aware of the differences between farm fresh and industrial produce but did not use the term ‘organic’ for their purchases. They wanted to eat vegetables and fruits and even spices that were clean, free from
preservatives or chemicals, and seemed to have barkat (Divine blessing). Hence they purchased such products, irrespective of whether they were produced organically or in any
other way. Classified as occasional buyers of organic foods / products, these respondents belonged to the
middle class
and had
college
level education.

As far as non-users of organic foods were concerned, many hailed from the upper middle class localities and had professional education. They had some understanding
of organic foods were but were not
involved enough to seek more details about them
or bring them in for trial. They consumed whatever grocery was readily available.

Health was a major reason people consumed and sought organic or at least hygienic food. C4 explained,

‘We buy organic because we are growing in age. We don’t want our kids to consume more crappy food;their intake of junk
food
is already high. We better cut down on clothes and shoes and eating out and rather spend on food.’

Several producers also announced that providing
good, environmentally clean and hygienic food for
themselves and other people was their main purpose for opting
for
organic farming. Producer P6, who had
been a senior aerospace engineer in Pakistan Army, enthusiastically reported about his work, ‘Love it. Bit of a satisfaction trying to provide an alternative source of food without contamination to people.’ He felt satisfied that many of his repeat customers were cancer survivors and those with immune system disorders. Respondent P3 was also happy that her aata (wheat flour) could be eaten by gluten intolerant people. In fact, these producers saw their businesses as part of their lives. P2
mused, ‘To me it’s a lifestyle.’
P7, who was a fine artist by profession, saw
her organic foods business as an expression of her creative ability. Procuring countless ingredients from all over the world for her wide array of homemade products, she liked to
‘invent’ edibles. She had lately developed peach tea that she excitedly talked
about and was in the process of developing honey based snacks.

Most of the regular and even occasional customers found the taste of organic foods noticeably different, sometimes ‘worlds apart’, from that of conventional foods. ‘Food tastes cleaner, healthier, raw, less artificial; milk tastes less plasticy,’ C4 thoughtfully described. Non-users, of course, were not too discerning, as one of the producers also observed, ‘all they see is cracks and bruises and one or two insects crawling in the vegetables.’ To regular customers this did not matter. Even though they found organic produce ‘more uneven in terms of looks; not as appealing as for example, uniform, bright
apricots,’ they were convinced of their nutritional value. One research participant, C11, actually found organic produce ‘beautiful.’

Producers too were very
strict about their ethical standards. Respondent P6 destroyed and burnt his crops ‘without the blink of an eye’ when pest attacks went out of control as he could not bow
down to the use of artificial pesticides,
nor wanted epidemics to spread to
other farms. P8 also recounted her
battle with using harmful chemicals. She once tried using synthetic chemicals in her soaps as customers
had been complaining about their short life. But using an environmentally hazardous ingredient proved too heavy on her conscience. So she decided to let go of increased sales and reverted to her own natural formula. Organizers
of
the farmers’ market in Karachi were also
‘encouraging our vendors to buy more
and more organic ingredients for their homemade products. It’s a move towards organic.’ (interview,
P3). This was evident at the readymade food stalls at the farmers’ market which were heavily advertising organic ingredients
in their products.

To step-up sales of organic foods, many customers (including non-users so far) and producers believed
that increasing
supply and variety
would induce people to consume more. ‘Supply is our biggest hindrance,’ one of the producers stated. Some producers suggested finding more vendors, especially for farm produce, while others like P4 believed, ‘People must grow their own food.’ She listed options of
roof tops, pot gardening, community supported agricultural farms, parts of apartment buildings and
public parks for growing more fruit trees than decorative plants. But for this, P8 suggested, professional
help
was needed, such as a platform for expert opinion and advice, where one could write articles, share
information, give and receive counsel. Highlighting the role of Mr.
Tofiq Pasha who had been
instrumental in introducing and encouraging kitchen gardens, she said, ‘We need more Tofiq Pashas and more of Tofiq Pasha.’ Finally, producers and even some customers believed that before
increasing supply, we needed to
learn to eat seasonal for our own health, as well as that of the soil and the
vegetables and fruits grown on it.

4.2.
Price

All regular and occasional customers, as well as non-users, found organic products two to three times more expensive than conventional products. One regular user objected, ‘Prices are at least 3 times. That’swhy we consume less. Organic food has less shelf life so one can’t stock it. It has to be consumed quickly. Therefore not worth the trip.’ Another customer protested, ‘Price is such a big factor that middle and lower middle classes won’t buy even if it’s much more beneficial. They are surviving on gatar bagheecha [grown on untreated sewage water] vegetables and poor quality food and water. Why would they buy more expensive?’

Customers strongly advocated reduction in prices to increase sales. A regular buyer of organic foods, C4 argued, ‘People would like to buy more if they reduce prices.
This will increase sales and demand.
People who don’t come are the ones who can’t afford. They
should reduce price of every single item, seriously.’ She called one of the places she does her organic shopping from ‘elitist, exclusive.’ Many
other consumers also pointed out to the buyers of organic products to be primarily the privileged elite of the country.

Producers agreed that prices of organic products were no doubt higher than those of conventional products but those who realized their worth were willing to buy them at a premium. Besides organic
products appeared overpriced when one looked at monetary cost only. If one took
into
account cost to the soil, to the environment and to the animals, not to mention one’s own health bills, it is conventional
farming that turned out to be
more
costly in the long run.

Even in monetary terms, P1clarified, organic products were not more expensive than conventional products. In the open market prices, he explained, prices fluctuated a lot. So prices of conventional produce averaged out to be more or less that of organic produce. ‘In past Ramadan, for example, tomatoes had gone up from Rs 40/kg to Rs 200/kg in the open market. Yet we continued selling at
Rs80/kg.’ He also explained how his organic chicken, bred in open farmyards (truly free range) and fed and looked after for several months before delivering to end user, was priced at Rs. 550 for approx a kilo. In the open market the same weight chicken, made ready in a month’s time, sold for around Rs 400. To top it, he weighed his chickens after culling, whereas they
were weighed alive, with feathers
and all, in the open
market.

Respondents, like C2, who had
some idea of the
painstaking
organic production –
difficulties in achieving
economies of scale, preparing
compost, use of natural fertilizers and pesticides and no mass advertising – nevertheless
said, ‘But organic producers need
to downgrade their lifestyle of big
houses, cars, air conditioners which they trying
to sustain by
selling organic. Consequently their products are overpriced and organic becomes a
rich man’s product.’ Another customer affirmed, ‘They can afford
to reduce prices, they are all rich
people
with farms of their own.’

In contrast to the above allegations, several producers revealed the rather meager financial conditions
of their businesses. Far from reaching a break-even, many put their personal savings into their farms on a regular basis.
P2, who
has
been in this
business for more than
20 years had never calculated her
expenditures or income, so couldn’t say if she had ever broken even! P6 also informed that he would break even
in winter months when big harvests were
reaped and used these
savings
to finance summer expenditures when harvests were leaner. Even then he paid his farm workers more than double the market rate, with women receiving the same wages as men (not a norm in Pakistani agriculture). When
I asked him the
reason, he
simply said,
‘I
have to answer God one
day.’

4.3.
Place

Many regular buyers of organic produce and products shopped at Karachi Farmers’ Market, buying once or twice a fortnight. Some also visited big supermarkets or the Empress market downtown. But C1, who

was a regular buyer of clean homemade food never shopped at
farmers’
markets or supermarkets but
bought farm fresh produce from neighbourhood vendors and poor cottage producers who allowed customers to select whatever they wanted, as much as they wanted and sold at very low prices. This

was the most involved and informed consumer group that took
pains to procure healthful food. One
such customer detailed
her
frequent shopping trips for grocery – fruits
and vegetables had
to be bought

from KFM, bread from bakery, organic milk was home delivered, rapeseed oil from another organic producer, and random requirements from neighbouring green grocer. ‘Not easily available and not in one place. One has to drive up especially to buy organic bread, for example. It is inconvenient,’ she concluded.

Other seekers of clean and
chemical-free (though not necessarily organic) food bought open grocery
from
local green grocers or mobile thela walas (hawkers with carts) who sold from house to house. One such person, C7, shopped at a farm shop near her office, since they gave her fresh produce at discounted prices. These people often shortlisted suitable vendors and then preferred to shop from them. Such local arrangements
were seen to be more convenient and economical than supermarkets
or specialty organic food stores. ‘Conveyance is expensive for us. We can’t pay Rs 600 for a trip to a farmers’ market in
Clifton.’ Another respondent seconded, ‘In middle classes availability is
of
‘supreme importance.’

Non-buyers of organic foods also fulfilled their grocery requirements from
neighbourhood grocers or random convenient spots.

Accessibility was a key reason, customers noted, organic products were not selling widely. ‘Availability needs to increase in middle class areas,’ several customers stressed. C3 promised, ‘If available in my area [Nazimabad] people will buy.
I am 100% sure they will buy…
even if a little expensive.’

Another frequent shopper
of organic foods suggested, ‘Vendors can operate from their houses.
They
have
land, time. Buyers can pick up
jams, condiments, sauces from their homes. This will increase
demand and they will be able to
increase supply and bring down prices.’

One non-user also suggested home delivery in order to entice her to buy organic, which was what growers/producers outside Karachi were already doing ‘to build marketing
relationships’ with
customers. Home delivery also enabled them to
quickly sell off fresh
produce nearby.

All of my respondent producers sold at Karachi Farmers’ Market (KFM), which was endeavouring
to collect suppliers of different organic products under one roof. Some also sold
at a couple of big
supermarkets in elite localities. Those residing outside Karachi, such as P1 and P2, sent their produce
via bus or courier to KFM. One of the vendors, P7, gave her reason for selecting Karachi Farmers’
Market. ‘[I get] best [sale] results at KFM because people come here with a mindset to purchase organic.’
This was attested by one customer in the following
words, ‘KFM are doing something
positive; trying
to put out something positive there to compete with large brands. It’s very difficult thing. I
also
empathise with them
– same class
group, educated,
middle class, workers, residing in Defence,
people
like us with areas of similar concerns.’
Continuing
the
argument, he added, ‘My honey sellers in Sadar
are
also trustworthy people because they are religious minded. I don’t think they’ll lie.’
Appreciating personal presence of growers
at
KFM, C9 noted, ‘A lively person
makes you
feel
nice.’

Nevertheless, realizing ‘our location is inaccessible for many’ producers at KFM were exploring other
retail options. P5 suggested including traders (middlemen) in the supply
chain to ensure a bigger and
more varied inventory at the Market. Some producers were trying
to
sign contracts with supermarkets
but facing issues of packaging (as discussed under the
heading of ‘Packaging’) and concerned whether retailers would provide them required
marketing
support (such as separate aisles and positive personal selling). P6 also believed middlemen found them
threatening, which is why he quit from
all
but one supermarket.

4.4.
Promotion

Regular users
relied primarily
on word-of-mouth marketing
and personal selling by vendors as their
major reasons for trusting sellers. C1 observed, ‘You have to know the person, have reference for him

who makes it at his house.’ C2 remarked, ‘Easier if I trust them.’ Many producers also believed that word-of-mouth marketing and social reference ‘have more credibility than official certification in this part of the world.’

Respondent P5, an eminent organic producer, also promoted organic farming to big and small farmers:
he ran
TV shows, visited universities and researchers and invited people to his farm. Other producers were also using social media – such as facebook, web pages, Islamabad Food Diary – to market their products. Some producers occasionally printed out brochures and leaflets. In spite of these efforts, not many users and non-users had heard of any promotion – other than health benefits – of organic foods in
Pakistan.

A few insightful customers (such as C2 and C6), who themselves promoted organic consumption, noted
that sellers’ emphasis only on the health benefits of organic products was largely responsible for this. Since only affluent people in the country could afford to spend discretionary income on health foods,
organic had become predominantly a rich man’s product who was buying it ‘as an insurance against bad health and old age.’ C2 ardently
opined, ‘Organic is about ethics but vendors are stressing only
health, rather than sustainable production, cruelty to animals, environmental degradation. Different aspects will resonate with different people…Besides, everybody must educate everybody, give organic gifts, push it on others. We all need to depend less on cash, buy local, barter, downsize, follow a more sustainable
pattern of consumption. Everybody must educate everybody. It’s not only farmers who have stake in it.’

Besides, overemphasis on health was helping industrial organic producers to
cover up the actual conditions in which organic farming
was
being practised. Sounding disappointed, C2 said, ‘Right now
organic is a label,
has
food miles, packaged in
plastic, and refrigerated for 5 months. So
it’s not truly sustainable.’ Producer P2 couldn’t agree more. ‘I
say
remove the ‘organic’ label altogether. It becomes exploitative.
Use the word desi (local) instead.’

C2’s words were echoed by many producers. P1 and P4 recognized the need for a ‘holistic approach.’ There was a need to work
with government bodies, NGOs, agricultural researchers, environmental activists, and doctors to spread the organic trend to all and sundry rather than to only the rich privileged class, they said. P5 and P8 stressed the need to educate people by writing articles, developing websites,
and inviting and visiting students and scholars to look at the bigger picture of the poverty of the farm
worker, local production, environmental care, and animal welfare, in addition to personal health. Finally
P8 advised not to give in to customer complaints about natural properties of organic produce – that they takes time to prepare, are not as long lasting and not as attractive – but to remain steadfast on one’s
commitment to organic.

C3 also mentioned the need for influential backing to establish farmers’ markets, ‘In our country anyone
who
does good work is threatened.’ Producer P4 also believed government policies, big businesses, poor regulations and lack of consumer protection policies were
huge
hindrances for them.

4.5.
Packaging

Most customers, whether regular or occasional, were not really concerned whether paper or plastic or any other organic or inorganic material was used for packaging. They generally found packaging of organic products ‘ok.’ Only one regular customer, C1, objected to plastic packaging as ‘not truly sustainable.’ He intended to ‘buy more if refilling can be done.’

C1 seemed to be echoing the concerns of producers who were eagerly bringing environmentally safe packaging into the organic foods market. Grower P2 sold in breathable packaging (bori) in bulk, like 40-50kg bags of wheat and rice, with small pouches of organic preservatives like turmeric and blackseed inside. P6 was in the process of developing reusable and repairable wicker baskets with compartments.

He was not in favour of paper, as according to him, it too required cutting down of trees and soon became non-reusable. I too saw much more glass, paper, wicker packaging at Karachi Farmers’ Market, compared to 2 months ago. One of the organizers also told me about their plan to offer price-cuts to customers who brought back empty refillable glass bottles.

But retailers often were rather unhappy with organic suppliers’
packaging choices. Supermarkets that were willing to stock organic
produce sneered at large and
bulky cardboard boxes and favoured plastic packaging
instead. Producers were not unaware of these issues. Respondent P5 empathized with
them as to how could one package hundreds of thousands of units without plastic packaging, especially when the issues of retaining crispiness, durability, handling and storage were present to complicate the matter? But he was
hopeful that some
resolution would soon come around.

One of the regular customers also expressed dissatisfaction with inadequate and unreliable labeling
of organic products in supermarkets. Producer P1 thus advised tamper proof packaging and clear labeling for organic items.

5. Analysis and Discussion

The following paragraphs discuss the primary findings in the light of secondary literature, keeping intact
the above mentioned categories of product, price, place, promotion and packaging.

5.1.
Product

Findings show that all respondents had an idea of the value of clean, chemical-free food but not all procured it. Some specifically bought organic products – such as fruits, vegetables, staples, poultry, bread and condiments – for the purpose, while others resorted to fresh clean produce sold openly. Even non-buyers of such foods were somewhat aware of the distinction between organic and conventional produce, but due to various reasons shopped whatever was most conveniently available.

Health was the main reason customers sought and producers provided clean chemical-free food. Several researches from all over the world (see for example, Ueasangkomsatea and Santiteerakulb, 2016, in Thailand; Chiew Shi Wee et al, 2014, in Malaysia; Sirieix et al’s, 2011, in China; Bartels and Berg,2011 and Wier and Calverley, 2002, in Europe) also name health as number 1 reason for a move towards organic. Interestingly, Sirieix et al’s (2011) respondents in China used the same terms as used by my respondents – ‘safe,’ ‘clean,’ ‘chemical-free’ – to describe the kind of food they liked to eat. Taste and freshness were also important to my participants, as they were to Bartels and Berg’s (2011) respondents.

Very few customers, but most producers, also mentioned environmental and ecological reasons for their
turn
to organic.
It
can thus be said that altruistic motives – such as environmental concerns,
food
miles or support for small producers, animal welfare – are only emerging in this part of the world, as elsewhere
in China
(Sirieix et al, 2011) and
Thailand
(Ueasangkomsatea and Santiteerakulb, 2016) but are more established
in
the developed
countries of Europe (Wier and Calverley, 2002).

Many respondents suggested an increase in
supply
and variety to encourage them to eat more organic. Locating more vendors was the way forward for some, while others believed in growing one’s own
food. A few respondents called for professional help in case of the latter. Whatever tactic one used, the
need for increasing supply could
not
be over emphasized. But before increasing organic consumption, it was seen important to learn to eat seasonal, for better health
and harvests.

5.2.
Price

Most consumers found organic products expensive, up to 2 to 3 times the price of conventional products. Researches elsewhere in Asia and Europe (Sirieix et al, 2011, Wier and Calverley, 2002 and Naspetti, 2002, for example) also confirm this. Customers and even non-customers vehemently asked for a reduction in prices to encourage them to buy (more). Very few customers were aware of the long laborious process of organic production. This was why many customers, especially from middle class areas, preferred to buy fresh open produce from neighbourhood vendors than go for specifically organic products in farmers’ markets or supermarkets.

Though some
producers, like
some of the
above mentioned
researchers, argued
for lower prices, many
believed otherwise. Calling
organic products pricey was not a fair evaluation
of them. It not only brushed aside the much longer and painstaking process of organic production
but
also ignored all cost savings to the
soil,
to the environment, to the animals and to the
small local farmer.
Were these costs taken into account, not to mention the price fluctuations in open market, conventional agriculture turned
out to be more costly, particularly
in the long run.
Michael Pollan reminds of the same reality. ‘[If] no pesticides found their way into any farm worker’s bloodstream, no nitrogen run-off or growth hormones seeped into the watershed, no soils were poisoned, no
antibiotics were squandered, no subsidy checks were written. If the high price of my all-organic meal is weighed against the comparatively low price it
exacted from the larger world,
it
begins to look like
a real bargain’ (2006: 182).

Moreover,
as some respondents incorrectly alleged,
several producers were not ‘rich people with farms of their own’… ‘out there to make profits from scaring people from
unclean poisonous foods’
but were often ethical, educated, well-established men and women who had adopted organic as a way of life. Far from
making profits, many had never even broken even. To them
‘it is health and vitality [of self and
nature at large] rather than yields that matter most’ (Brown,
2000:6).

5.3.
Place

Most of the regular customers bought organic food from farmers’ markets in Karachi and Islamabad. Some  also  visited  supermarkets  occasionally.  In  times  of  spontaneous  need,  they  resorted  to neighbourhood shops. Being the most involved customer group, these people eagerly sought out specific vendors for specific products, however inconvenient it was. People in search of clean open food (produced organically or in any other way) also selected few trustworthy suppliers and stayed with them. Non-buyers of organic foods bought grocery from any easily accessible shop or hawker. Thus accessibility was considered of ‘supreme’ significance in the purchase of everyday grocery. Since purchase of organic foods / products required  much  time  and  effort,  not  many customers  were committed enough to locate them. Many of the previously mentioned researches – such as those of Wier and Calverley (2002), Shi and Hodges (2015) and Naspetti (2002), and Sirieix et al (2011) – attest to this fact. However, most consumers in these researches preferred to buy from supermarkets because of regular, if narrow or more expensive, range of supply. A few bought directly from farmers and the open market.

Although a fairly new addition to the distribution network, farmers’ markets have proven useful for both buyers and sellers as they
supply
different organic products
in
one place. Besides personal interaction with actual growers of food gave customers confidence in
their purchases. Buying open
grocery from neighbourhood markets or specific
home
producers, on the other hand,
accorded customers
convenience, economy and sometimes selection of merchandise. The few elite supermarkets which
stock organic products offer none of these benefits (substantially). In fact, some customers do not even
trust their prices and labels.

Though farmers were endeavouring to improve availability of organic foods / products, many respondents believed, this along
with high prices, was holding down adoption of these products in
the
country. Some users and non-users pledged to buy more if
the twin
issues of availability
and prices
could be resolved. ‘Yes, yes, yes’ non-user C5 said. ‘Definitely I will try’ non-user C12 promised. Many
producers were trying
to
improve delivery through supermarkets and middlemen, but neither seemed
very supportive of organic foods / products (also see
section on packaging below). Home delivery was
also
suggested as a distribution option in Karachi as in other cities of the country.

5.4.
Promotion

Respondents in the study considered word-of-mouth publicity and trustworthiness of critical value in promoting organic products. Customers preferred to talk directly with vendors, whom they sometimes saw as ‘people like us’ and this gave them confidence in their purchases. Sirieix et al (2011) also speak about trust as an important factor in inducing trial.

In addition, producers were using
social media, websites and sometimes TV shows to market their products. One of them
also visited universities and invited other farmers and students to his farm.
Unfortunately, not many customers, particularly non-users, were aware of these activities or of organic farming as anything other than a road to better health.
According to one of my customers, this state of affairs was mainly because producers, particularly industrial producers, were emphasizing
only the health benefits of organic products, sidelining or even ignoring environmental issues, animal welfare or local concerns, consequently losing out on prospective customers who could have been wooed by these reasons.

Moreover, excessive emphasis on healthcare gave lukewarm
ethical producers opportunity to
camouflage the actual conditions of organic food production. Michael Pollan captures this reality in his
classic work, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Calling ‘organic’
an ‘industrial artifact, he warns that organic
should not be simplistically assumed
to be automatically healthful, especially for the
entire ecosystem. Food that is heavily
processed and has travelled long
miles is hardly
sustainable. Besides, on many industrial milk
plants cows are still tethered to machines and have never seen a blade of grass, though they are fed organic fodder every day! Many chickens remain locked up in pens with hundreds of others
and are allowed
to venture
out to a narrow grassy yard only for only a few minutes every day (2006).
Reverberating these concerns, several producers advocated joining
hands with government bodies,
educationists, environmental and animal welfare activists and for remaining
steadfast to the organic
way
of life.

5.5.
Packaging

On the whole, customers found packaging of organic products ‘ok’ and did not give much serious

thought to it. One customer, however, was perturbed by the use of plastic by some organic vendors and another found labeling inadequate and not always trustworthy. Most producers, on the other hand, were sensitive to the use of environmentally hazardous packaging and were campaigning aggressively for banishing plastic out of the organic foods / products market. Some were even working to develop more
ecological packaging
alternatives. Unfortunately, retailers often objected to paper cartons, favouring plastic packaging instead.

These results are somewhat different from those of other studies in the developed (not so much in the developing) world, where communicative, ethical and
environmentally safe features of packaging are becoming important marketing concerns (Fernqvist et al, 2015). Significance of ethical and adequate labelling is highlighted by Wier and Calverley (2002), Bartels and Berg (2011) and Sirieix et al (2011).
Environmental issues in product packaging are evident in Fernqvist et al’s (2015) study, where paper
was
seen as giving a feeling of a ‘fresh[ness]’ and reminiscent of ‘farmers’ market,’ while plastic was considered strange, expensive,
unnecessary and ‘bad for the environment.’

I believe  a  more  holistic promotional  effort,  geared  towards
 enlightening people
 to  the  various
dimensions of organic foods, including environmental concern, will automatically win votes towards environmentally safe
packaging.

6. Conclusion

This research studied the organic foods / products market in Pakistan by interviewing buyers (including
occasional and non-users) and sellers regarding their views on the marketing mix of these products and inviting their suggestions for improving marketing mix problems they highlighted. It was seen that most
people were aware, at least somewhat, of the benefits of clean, chemical-free food but not all bought it.
Some
bought specifically organic foods / products for the purpose (called regular custoemrs in the study); some looked for any
clean and safe alternatives (whether produced organically or otherwise – they
are
thus called occasional consumers), while
some others just shopped whatever and wherever
convenient (aware, but not committed enough to look for safe clean food; called non-users in the paper). Health, as in other countries, appeared as the main reason for the quest for organic foods / products. But high prices and limited availability made shopping for organic foods / products difficult, causing even
involved consumers to curtail their purchases. Market for organic products was further seen
to
be limited because of customers’
ignorance or vague understanding of altruistic concerns about ecology
and fair trade. It was thus argued to increase supply
and
variety through intensifying
distribution
and providing
organic foods
/ products with more holistic promotional support. These measures, it was hoped
would pull demand up and push prices down. Besides, they would enlist those customers who so
far
had not been wooed by the health motive.
Thus a revised marketing mix
was
seen to have potential to
contribute to
the overall market development of organic foods
/ products
in
Pakistan.

It is hoped this research has provided stakeholders with a more well-rounded view of the organic foods/ products’ market in Pakistan that will help them take more informed decisions about their food choices
and marketing strategies.

7. Limitations and Areas for Further Research

In this research all customers and most producers belonged to Karachi. It is felt a more varied
(geographically and socially) and wider sample could have enrichened findings further. Also limitations
of scope and space
did
not
allow the
researcher to fully investigate some of the debates around
organic
foods, such as sustainability, consumer demographics, repositioning, etc. These ideas were only touched
upon and one is briefly mentioned in
appendix C. They can be explored in
upcoming researches.

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Appendix A: Definitions of the Components of the Marketing Mix

Product: anything that can be offered to a market for attention, acquisition, use or consumption that
might satisfy a
want or need (p.190)

Packaging: The activities of designing and
producing the
container or wrapper for a
product (p. 199)

Price: the amount of money charged for a product or service, or the sum of the values that customers exchange
for
the benefits of having or using the
product or service (p.247)

Place: company activities that make a product or service available to target consumers. This includes
distribution channels,
retail outlets,
product transportation
and logistics (p. 46)

Promotion: activities that communicate merits of a product or service and persuade customers to buy
it; typically includes advertising,
personal selling, public relationing and sales promotion

Appendix B: Sustainability Debate on Organic Farming

Organic farming is
not considered
sustainable due to the
following reasons:

absence of artificial fertilizers and nutrients limits crop yield
and hence necessitates a bigger area of land (Moyer, 2016; Brown, 2000)

pest attacks destroy huge amounts of crops each year, so again large areas of crops need to be planted (FAO report, 2016) organic farmers need to intensely cultivate whatever small farms they have. This too quickly depletes soil of its natural nutrients, making it useless for further cultivation (Brown, 2000; interview, P3) because of all of the above reasons, organic farming is more expensive. Hence big farmers are not getting involved, keeping supplies small and prices high (interview, P1 and P5) supply is also low because of seasonal plantation by organic producers (Brown, 2000; interview, P3) transportation and distribution costs per unit are also higher for small quantities, further pressurizing prices (interview, P5)

In response to the above arguments, my participant producers replied that it is conventional agriculture
that robs land off its nutrients faster, making it uncultivable in about 5 years time. Organic farming uses
intercropping instead of monoculture that naturally replenishes nutrients by the time the next season for a particular crop arrives (interview, P1 and P2). Besides, P3 informed, a variety of crops, as opposed to
monoculture farming, limits the damage done by
pest
attacks. Dismissing the fear, she announced
in a
careful tone,
‘I
am hedging my bets.’

Respondent P3 also revealed that she obtains 25 mun of aata from
an acre of land, whereas the
conventional yield is 35 mun/acre. So not only
is
this a relatively small differential but in the long run is
likely to
close due to the soil retaining its fertility for longer.

Regarding transportation and distribution costs, respondent P5 explained
in meticulous detail the
role of the middleman arti: he is a reliable source of start-up capital,
underwriter to
purchase ready harvest
and a financier of labour and overhead costs for the farmer. So
even
if he eats
away the profit, he provides invaluable
service,
without which a farmer couldn’t even
exist.

As far as expenses were concerned, if we consider the cost to the soil, to the environment, to the animals, our own health bills, and price fluctuations in the open market, conventional produce becomes more
expensive in the long run, all producers unanimously agreed. Concluding the argument, P3 asserted,

‘Without organic farming, agriculture is not sustainable.’
P1 declared, ‘In the long run, it is organic agriculture that can provide a
sustainable source of supply.’

The above interview findings also find support in literature. Like P3, Badgley et al (2007) claim that “organic agriculture has the potential to contribute quite substantially to the global food supply, while reducing the detrimental environmental impacts of conventional agriculture.” They compared yields of organic versus conventional food production for 293 examples from both the developed and the developing world. It was found that the estimated organic food supply was more or less similar in magnitude to the current food supply for most food categories (grains, sweeteners, tree nuts, oil crops and vegetable oils, fruits, meat, animal fats, milk, and eggs), ranging from 0.93 to 1.06. For other food categories (starchy roots, legumes, and vegetables) the average yield ratios ranged from 0.82 to 0.89. Thus the average yield ratio for all 160 examples from developed countries stood at 0.92 while the average yield ratio for the 133 examples from the developing world at 1.80. This research also suggested that organic agriculture can provide 2641 kcal/ person/day or an even higher 4381 kcal/person/day (The average caloric requirement for a healthy adult is between 2200 and 2500 kcal / person /day), thus having the potential to sustain not only the current human population but perhaps a significantly larger one.

According to the authors, these high yields were obtained when farmers incorporated “intensive
agroecological techniques,
such as crop rotation, cover cropping, agroforestry, addition of
organic fertilizers, or more efficient water management…Use of cover crops, crop rotation, green manure and leaving
soil fallow, some agricultural systems, leguminous cover crops not only
contribute to
soil fertility but also reduce the vulnerability of plants to disease. These results imply
that,
in
principle, no additional land area is required
to obtain enough biologically available nitrogen to replace the current use of
synthetic nitrogen fertilizers.”
This was what was asserted by
the
above mentioned organic producers
in
the study.

Many countries have started instituting measures to reverse the trend of conventional agriculture. Chile,
Vietnam, Gambia, Costa Rica and a host of others are using fiscal measures (incentives and tax breaks)
and regulatory tools – concerning environment, land usage, local agriculture – to fight deforestation and
are
already experiencing
positive changes
in food security, poverty reduction, climate change and
sustainable development (FAO Report, 2016). Other countries, such as Thailand, Malaysia, China have set up ministries, research
centres and certification
bodies looking into sustainable /organic
agriculture
(Ueasangkomsatea and
Santiteerakulb (2016).

Appendix C: Interview schedules for respondents

Buyers

1 What is your concept of organic foods / products?

2 What organic
foods / products do you
buy?

3 Where
do you buy these foods /
products?

4 What encourages you to buy organic foods / products
mentioned above?

5 What can be the likely market mix factors (product, place, price, promotion and packaging) that
discourage you
or induce you to
buy
less of the
above
mentioned
organic foods / products?

6 What changes in the
market mix
factors (product, place, price,
promotion and packaging) can
induce you
to buy more organic
foods
/ products
in
future?

Sellers

1What is your concept of organic foods/ products?

2 What organic
foods / products do you
sell?

3 Why do you
sell organically,
rather than
conventionally, produced foods
mentioned
above?

4 Where
do you sell these foods
/ products?

5 What kind of customers buy your organic products?

6 What marketing mix factors (product, place, price, promotion and packaging) are discouraging people from buying organic foods / products?

7 What changes in the market mix factors (product, place, price, promotion and packaging) can redeem
the situation



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