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Black amaranth muesli from Bolivia to showcase FAO's 'mountain food' logo

Niamh Michail

By Niamh Michail+

03-Oct-2016
Last updated on 04-Oct-2016 at 09:17 GMT2016-10-04T09:17:28Z

Appointed experts will periodically test random samples of products bearing the logo to ensure they meet all guidelines.  © FAO
Appointed experts will periodically test random samples of products bearing the logo to ensure they meet all guidelines. © FAO

The UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and Slow Food have created a logo for mountain foods to ensure producers receive a fair compensation, help consumers make informed choices and protect endangered products.

'Flor de leche' cheese and black amaranth muesli from Bolivia; purple rice from the Indian Himalayas; and rosehip tea from Kyrgyzstan are just some of the flagship products that will bear the logo.

The label is a voluntary communication tool, as opposed to a formal certification scheme, that allows producers to make their products stand out and helps consumers to identify them from competitor products.

It is an important step in preventing endangered mountain crops and products – an integral part of cultural and biological diversity – from being lost, say its creators.

Rosalaura Romeo, program officer at the Mountain Partnership Secretariat told FoodNavigator: “We conducted a market analysis that shows that consumers link mountain products with the concept of purity and quality and are ready to pay a premium prices to purchase them. At the moment, most mountain products are sold in markets jointly with products from the lowland, produced with intensive agriculture techniques.

“The mountain farmers who produce smaller volumes do not normally receive a premium price for the high quality and the extra work. The label will help consumers to identify high quality mountain products in the market and bring them to pay a little bit extra which in turn will go to the producers."

Still at the pilot stage, Romeo could not confirm how much of a price premium producers would receive, but said they were working with "progressive retailers" to ensure that the products could be sold at a higher price on markets.

© Alessia Vita

The price of amaranth plummeted from $130 (€116) in 2015 to $45 (€40) in 2016 due to unusual climate events and excessive undifferentiated supply, hitting small-scale mountain producers badly, according to the FAO.

By focusing on product differentiation, such as highlighting the qualities of rarer varieties like black amaranth, the project could cushion mountain producers from such price crashes.

Joining the initiative costs nothing, making it much more accessible than other formal certification schemes, and the producers also become part of the Mountain network, giving them access to other forms of support as well as online visibility.

Black amaranth muesli

The partnership has already found a distributor for the black amaranth produced by rural communities in Bolivia, Irupana, a company which specialises in organic food production with a particular focus on Andean cereals.

Another flagship product is a variety of apricot grown in the remote mountainous region of Batken in Kyrgyzstan. Foreign buyers in Germany have already expressed an interest, said Romeo.

According to Romeo, there is a need for economically marginalised mountain communities to benefit from their own label. “Mountain communities are among the poorest of the world. Mountain products have the potential to improve their local economies," said Romeo.

“Worldwide demand is on the rise for quality foods and beverages produced in mountain areas, such as coffee, honey, herbs and spices, as well as handicrafts and cosmetics. Small-scale mountain businesses cannot compete with lower prices and larger volumes of lowland production, but they can focus on specific markets and tap into the rising demand for sustainable, high quality, fair trade products.”

© Alessia Vita

This marginalisation is partly due to remoteness of their location, which can hinder access to markets and other services such as credit information, but also the high number of middlemen in the supply chain which means they do not always receive a fair price.

The label is just one element of the project, and produces can apply for support at other parts of the production cycle, such as helping producers set up associations or providing technical advice on cultivation and storage.

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