Meeting agri standards ‘challenge’

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014


IF THE Philippine agriculture and food processing sector wants to serve its Southeast Asian neighbors, it has to comply with standards required by its respective markets.

For local farmers, this presents a difficulty, as complying with standards implies additional costs, Department of Agriculture International Relations Division Chief Noel de Luna said.

De Luna was the resource speaker in yesterday’s Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Economic Integration workshop for food and agriculture.

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By 2015, the Asean has committed to establish standards for agricultural practice, animal husbandry, hazard analysis and critical control point based systems, good aquaculture practice, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, maximum residue limits of commonly used pesticides, guidelines for the use of chemicals in aquaculture, products derived from biotechnology and biosecurity management systems. The standards will be crafted prioritizing agricultural and food products with significant trade and trade potential.

De Luna noted, however, that not all buyers required standards. While some of the country’s top supermarkets ask their suppliers for standard certifications to justify the higher prices of their produce to their consumers, de Luna said that if a farmer is targeting a non-discerning market, they will not have to comply with any standards.

Challenge

He said the need to comply with standards can become a challenge for small growers. He said that if a farmer works on his own and is not a part of a cooperative, contractual arrangement or integrator, the farmer will have difficulty selling goods to the right buyers.

Chato Cadora, agriculture coordinator for the AFOS Foundation’s OURFood program, cited some reasons farmers are not too keen on getting certified. Most of these certifications require heavy documentation and recording of activities and minimizing chemical inputs. They are also required to have facilities like toilets, washing areas, storage houses and consolidation areas, which all need funds.

So far, the Asean has adopted good agricultural practices for fresh fruit and vegetables, established 775 harmonized maximum residue limits for 61 pesticides and 29 standards for horticultural and food crops. It has also adopted 49 standards for animal vaccines, 13 criteria fir the accreditation of livestock establishments and three criteria for the accreditation of livestock products.

De Luna said the Asean is in the process of strengthening its genetically modified food testing network, developing guidelines on good management practices for shrimp, developing a code of conduct for responsible fisheries and implementing a hazard analysis and critical control point in the production of fish and fisheries products.

The Asean Food Safety Network was also established in 2004 as a platform for Asean officials to exchange information on food safety.

For farmers on a tight budget, he said the DA is offering free certification services.

However, he warned that they still have to comply with the requirements and that their certifications can be revoked anytime these are not complied with. As of last year, he said they have only certified 14 farms, renewed the certifications of two and are evaluating the applications of six farms.

De Luna said the need for better laboratories to check on the safety of products being imported for domestic consumption and the quality of products being exported to foreign markets.

Adding value

He said the Philippines is particularly poor in value-adding technology, research and development and packaging products and materials. With integration, he hopes businesses will take advantage of the opportunities available from neighboring countries and use these in their respective enterprises to improve their output.

As the region becomes fully integrated, De Luna only has high hopes for the sector, saying Asean is a booming economy of 600 million people, 150 million of whom are in the middle class. “The AEC, due to harmonization of standards, will encourage food consumption,” he told participants.

He also foresees better access to the technology available in other countries, cheaper finance once capital is able to flow about freely, efficient transportation and mobility and the possibility of cheaper power, if the country becomes part of an Asean grid.

“This will take a long time but over the years, yes, the cost of production will also go down because of these factors,” he said.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 01, 2014.

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