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Ensuring food safety through GAP

Adoption of GAP will reduce barriers to trade

Food safety: By early 2016, Bhutan will complete most of the formalities to adopt Good Agriculture Practices (GAP), a pre-requisite for procurement of food to ensure quality and safety in international markets.

This was one of the outcomes of the daylong workshop on SAARC GAP Scheme for vegetables and fruits that was held on Monday in Thimphu.

GAP, as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, is a collection of principles that need to be applied on farms to ensure food safety and deals with good practices applicable until the farm gate.

For instance, farmers should make sure that water available for irrigation should be free from harmful contaminants.

According to experts at the workshop, adoption of GAP will reduce barriers to trade and give Bhutanese fruits and vegetables direct access to some of the best markets in the world.

Bhutan among Bangladesh, Maldives and Nepal has been selected as pilot countries for the project’s implementation.                                                                                                                                       National project coordinator for SAARC GAP Scheme Project, Jamyang Phuntsho said, “Many importing countries and domestic buyers, especially organised retail, today ask producers to implement GAP as a pre-requisite for procurement to ensure quality and safety.”

Bhutan Agriculture and Food regulatory Authority (BAFRA) will certify agriculture products grown following GAP for sale and consumption. “Some importers ask if our products are certified,” he said.

But to qualify as a certifying body, the authority itself will have to first be accredited with ISO/IEC 17065.

A draft of SAARC GAP scheme for vegetables and fruits is under discussion and will be modified to suit Bhutan’s context before it is endorsed.

International consultant with Food and Agriculture Organisation, Atish Kumar Sen said both exporters and consumers are concerned about food safety today. “Importers will be willing to buy our products only if safety is assured.”

He said it would not only reduce barriers to trade and ensure food safety but also prevent environmental hazards.

Agriculture secretary Tenzin Dhendup said the project has come at an opportune time. “Bhutan is making a shift from subsistence farming to commercial farming,” he said. “We have been able to produce a lot of vegetables some of which are exported to India.”

FAO’s lead technical officer Dr Shashi Sareen, said, most SAARC countries have not yet adopted GAP and that most of the food safety standards are focused on end products instead of a preventive approach.

She said production of safe food is essential for protecting consumers from the hazards of food borne illnesses and is important both in domestic food business as well as for increasing competitiveness in export markets. “It therefore becomes important to address food safety right from food production at farm level.”

It has been documented that implementation of GAP encourages promotion of optimum use of resources such as pesticides, fertilisers and water.

Its social dimension would be to protect the agricultural workers’ health from improper use of chemicals and pesticides.

To support SAARC countries in implementing GAP, a regional project on “Development of Standards and Scheme for GAP implementation and certification in countries of SAARC” is under way.

This project supports the development of a regional scheme for the horticulture sector comprising GAP standards and a certification system in line with international requirements and practices.

By MB Subba

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