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[COTONOU] Even in poor settings, shoppers say they are willing to pay more for organically grown vegetables, a study in West Africa has found.

Researchers from Benin and the United Kingdom surveyed 100 people shopping for cabbages and tomatoes in Benin and Ghana about their ideas on vegetable quality, their awareness of the use of synthetic pesticides, and their willingness to pay more for chemical-free vegetables.

They found that 95 per cent of consumers in Benin and 86 per cent in Ghana said they were willing to pay more than 50 per cent extra for organic produce.

In both countries, consumers are increasingly aware of the types of pesticides used and the awareness of health risks is increasing, wrote the authors in their paper, published in the International Journal of Vegetable Science.

"There may be negative effects to human health and the environment caused by over-application of synthetic pesticides," they wrote. Although farm workers are at greatest risk of exposure, consumers may also be at risk from chemical residues in the vegetables, they said.

Almost 90 per cent of respondents in Ghana and 70 per cent in Benin said that they were aware of health hazards related to the use of synthetic pesticides. But just a fifth and a quarter, respectively, knew of organically based pesticides.

"Once they're aware of health risks related to the consumption of synthetic pesticide-treated vegetables, consumers are ready to pay a bit more money for [organic] products," Ousmane Coulibaly, an agricultural economist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Benin and co-author of the study, told SciDev.Net.

"Information must be spread to raise awareness among the population."

Coulibaly explained that most people buy their vegetables in sheds along roads, where there is little information about how products were treated. 

The researchers recommend putting a system of certification in place to allow buyers to differentiate between the two types.  

Prosper Mondé, an agroeconomist at the National Organisation for Food Security (ONASA) in Benin, said the idea of certification should be supported.

"[Certification would] be a real tool of education for the population and it will help to promote [organic] products which are better for health," he said.

Mondé also insisted on the need to maintain an affordable price for organically grown vegetables.

Link to abstract in International Journal of Vegetable Science


International Journal of Vegetable Science 17, 349 (2011)