By Verenardo Meeme, Rootooba, 16 June 2020
Expanding producers’ and food handlers’ capacity for good agricultural practices (G.A.P.) results in globally recognized certification of Kenyan agricultural produce and the potential for quality products that meet consumer demands and increased income for farmers, experts say.
G.A.P. compliance is an outstanding facilitator in producing high-quality products with a significant contribution to environmental sustainability and food safety. However, local producers and exporters continue to struggle with attaining compliance and therefore face restrictions in accessing the international market. This impedes trade potential, experts noted.
GLOBALG.A.P., a global organization founded over 20 years ago, has developed a set of global standards which play a key role in supporting producers to meet market requirements through a modular add-on approach. The GLOBALG.A.P. IFA standard is the most widely used on-farm food safety system in the fresh food supply chain worldwide. Formerly, farmers needed to be compliant with a variety of different protocols in order to sell their products to markets with differing needs. This proved to be an expensive and complex system for all stakeholders, and eventually led to the development of GLOBALG.A.P.’s universal set of standards.
“Today, we have the largest buyers around the world in countries such as China, and Italy on board. Producers with one G.A.P. certificate can sell products across the world,” says a GLOBALG.A.P. representative at the TOUR 2019 Kenya.
Compliance with G.A.P. has become a prerequisite not only for international market access but also for regional and domestic markets, which are increasingly focusing on safety standards. Thus the demand from producers in the region, who are seeking to understand the relevance of the GLOBALG.A.P. standard for international, regional, and local markets, is growing steadily.
“Over time, I have come to appreciate the importance of G.A.P. certification. It gives us complete control and management of the process. We are more confident in the products we sell to the consumers. It gives us an impetus to interrogate our farming process from procuring seeds, farm inputs, enhancing accountability and assurance that whatever we produce is safe,” Apollo, FPEAK Chair.
With expansive global growth, the GLOBALG.A.P. organization is now focusing on supporting smallholder farmers in the 135 countries in which 70% of producers with an average of one-hectare cultivated land can be found. Many farmers are beginning to join in, thanks to a wide range of support and services such as access to science-based training and field operation support. As highlighted by GLOBALG.A.P. sources, this has made agricultural trade easier.
In addition to certification, GLOBALG.A.P. offers other services that help value chain actors to comply with international standards which boost the marketability of agricultural products. These include capacity building trainings, farm assurance, and awareness raising through events aimed at spreading useful information to value chain actors and providing an opportunity for networking and open interactions with various players in the industry. One such event was the TOUR stop conference held in Kenya in 2019. It was attended by public and private sector players to discuss issues concerning the production and retail of fresh produce.
GLOBALG.A.P. has over 450 voluntary members who form a community that includes stakeholders from the food service industry, retailers, input suppliers, growers, and more. GLOBALG.A.P. accounts for more than 208,000 certified producers in 135 countries (last updated 30/10/2020). In Africa, the share of certified producers is 19.74 percent, according to GLOBALG.A.P. sources.
As one of the greatest takeaways from over 600 participants of the TOUR stop conference, the lack of current information and technical know-how on food safety compliance by growers and food handlers is a major bottleneck to market access and agricultural production in the continent. Yet, food safety is gaining traction due to increased demand from consumers for a healthy diet.
Moreover, the need for easier access to relevant sources of information that support G.A.P. standards was highlighted by many who spoke at the event.
“The key to addressing agricultural challenges is availability of and access to information. Data and science outputs remain an important aspect to informing G.A.P.s, so that their implementation can be guided by knowledge and information that is easily accessible,” said Professor Hamadi Boga, Principal Secretary at the State Department for Crops Development and Agricultural Research in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Cooperatives.
Mr Apollo Owuor, the Fresh Produce Exporters Association (FPEAK) Chair, noted that in Kenya, information gaps were initially precipitated by a curriculum that lacked courses to train experts on G.A.P. elements such as risk assessment, environmental safety compliance, and pollution control, and yet consumers demanded G.A.P. certified products. He also noted that a lack of internet access on behalf of small producers was hindering access to critical information and documents.
Mr Apollo explained, however, that over the years, FPEAK had navigated the challenge, providing information to its members about various aspects including traceability, environmental stewardship, food safety, records, procedures, and policies adherence. In addition, the organization, faced with information gaps about certification by their members and the growing focus on traceability, embarked on building capacity for social and environmental standards to ensure that association members benefit from information on the international food market as well as various global opportunities.
While it may seem that there is a dearth of information sources for small producers, numerous platforms exist that hold a large amount of information beneficial to producers and other players. GLOBALG.A.P. has a rich pool of resources on their websites that is freely accessible. On this website, producers can access information on how to meet G.A.P. standards, interact with approved consultants and certification bodies, and access information on upcoming events in their regions. Other platforms hosted by FPEAK, HCD, KEPHIS; PCPB; and numerous privately operated platforms hold useful information too.
Another challenge that was highlighted in the backdrop of the TOUR stop conference was the misrepresentation of facts as captured in various crop regulations and a lack of understanding in their implementation.
The PS noted that his Ministry had published the Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy, which has two pillars concerning smallholders and which have provided clarity in crop regulations and their interpretation, hence easing implementation.
He emphasized the government’s commitment to providing an enabling environment to support stakeholders by complimenting each other’s role in the agricultural value chain. This includes exporters sharing information to growers about the significance of GLOBALG.A.P. certification in expanding the market, while the government through various policies and the extension arm would work with County governments to equip farmers with relevant G.A.P. knowledge and its application.
Concerns about food safety for local produce also emerged as weighty and requiring concerted efforts by the private and public sector. According to Ms. Diana Akullo, an African Union Representative, deliberating on food safety standards for both the export and the domestic market is critical. “In Kenya, there have been incidents where people have had an issue in consuming unsafe food resulting in food poisoning, and in the long term, health complications such as cancer have been reported contributing to the health burden” Akullo said.
To address food safety concerns for local produce, GLOBALG.A.P. has developed a localg.a.p. standard that ensures fresh produce destined for local markets meets all necessary safety standards for consumers.
Akullo reiterated the need for supporting researchers, policymakers, standards-setting bodies among others in their efforts to maintain high food standards.
She hailed the conference observing that the deliberations mark a new chapter for sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS) in sub-Saharan Africa and were in line with the Malabo declaration that encourages public-private partnerships and support to agriculture in the AU member states.
In summary, participants echoed that G.A.P. standards must resonate with the sentiments of the FPEAK Chair, and a producer himself, who observed that if stakeholders implement G.A.P. standards, consumers will be assured that what they consume is safe, whether it is for local consumption or export.
These discussions were deliberated during the GLOBALG.A.P. TOUR stop conference held in October 2019 and organized by Rootooba in partnership with Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO). The TOUR stop conference for good agricultural practices brought together a significant representation of global experts and producers, and input and service providers in the fresh produce value chains.