Ladies and gentlemen.
It is a privilege for me to welcome you all on behalf of FAO to this workshop on Good Agricultural Practices for Fresh Fruit and Vegetables in Thailand. Allow me first to express FAO’s sincere appreciation to the Ministry Of Agriculture and Cooperatives of the Royal Kingdom of Thailand, for co-hosting this workshop with us. It is indeed an honour for FAO to be able to support this event.
World agriculture in the twenty-first century is faced with three main challenges:
- to improve food security, rural livelihoods and income;
- to satisfy the increasing and diversified demands for safe food and other products; and,
- to conserve and protect natural resources.
These challenges have been articulated by the international community through the World Food Summit Plan of Action and the Millennium Development Goals, with specific targets to be met by 2015. Agriculture is expected to assure food security in a range of settings, now and in the future, and is increasingly called upon to produce positive environmental, social and economic benefits.
FAO firmly believes that Good Agricultural Practices have the potential to help adapt to these changes. In Thailand also, the implementation of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) for Fresh Fruit and Vegetables has been for several years a high priority for the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.
What is GAP?
FAO defines four pillars of Good Agricultural Practices that apply to all scales of farming:
- Efficient production of sufficient, safe and high quality food and non-food products;
- Sustainable use of natural resources;
- Viability of farming enterprises and contribution to sustainable livelihoods;
- Responsiveness to the cultural and social demands of society.
Practically speaking, GAPs are a prerequisite for a food chain approach to food safety and quality which includes Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), Good Hygiene Practices (GHPs), and the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. But also, the concept of good agricultural practices should serve as a reference tool for deciding, at each step in the production process, on practices that are sustainable as well as safe.
So, why GAP?
Good agricultural practices are currently promoted and used in many parts of the world by a range of stakeholders to address diverse needs.
- Governments, international agencies and NGOs promote the use by farmers of sustainable agricultural methods such as integrated pest management, integrated nutrient management or conservation agriculture to help mitigate environmental and societal risks in a range of farming systems, and contribute to food security and sustainable livelihoods.
- The food processing and retailing industries use the concept of GAP in developing codes of practice and criteria contributing mainly to food quality and safety, consumer satisfaction and profit. With the emerging consumer demand for sustainably produced and wholesome food and other products, this trend may create incentives for the adoption of good practices by farmers, opening new domestic and export market opportunities, provided farmers have the capacity to respond.
This is why FAO has experienced for several years a rapidly growing demand for assistance from its member countries on GAP. FAO has a unique range of technical expertise relating to GAP: not only on food safety and quality, and regulatory requirements of Codex Alimentarius and the International Plant Protection Convention, but also on IPM and Integrated Nutrient Management, sustainable use of natural resources and biodiversity, environmental impacts of agriculture, and value chains analysis and marketing. FAO experts from different disciplines have begun to work together on GAP as a priority area for interdisciplinary action. In the past few years, regional or country activities, workshops or studies on GAP for non-food crops, grain, fruit, vegetables and livestock products have been implemented by FAO in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
What are main areas for FAO’s GAP work?
In line with guidance provided by FAO member countries at FAO’s Committee on Agriculture in 2003 and 2005, FAO’s GAP work focuses on three main areas:
- first, providing global, independent information on GAP, including through a GAP website and GAP database and analytical inventories on existing GAP standards, their benefits, constraints and costs of implementation, and regulatory requirements.
- second, defining scientifically-based global principles of GAP, based on FAO’s long standing experience in food and agriculture.
- and thirdly, providing policy and technical assistance to developing countries, helping them review or define their GAP programmes, understand policy trade-offs and potential benefits. FAO also has an important facilitating role to play in helping public and private stakeholders identify win-win situations for GAP implementation in specific food chains.
What conclusions can we draw from our GAP work so far?
Our experience indicates that the implementation of GAP induces at least four challenges:
- first, ensuring that the interests of smaller-scale producers and domestic markets in developing countries are taken into account when defining GAP programmes, and that adequate attention is given to low-cost technologies and training for small-scale farmers;
- second, making sure that the growing number of scattered public and private initiatives for good agricultural practices does not burden farmers and governments with multiple codes and regulations. On the one hand, governments should guarantee transparency to avoid uncertainty about misleading claims or undue influence of special interests, for instance of the agro-chemical industry. On the other, professional associations, packers, retailers and exporters and private certification businesses should play an important role in GAP implementation, if any GAP programme is to be successful.
- thirdly, we need to support the development of GAP standards which foster real environmental and social benefits, as these dimensions are sometimes superficially addressed in GAP.
- fourthly, there is a need for better integration of government services (food safety, research institutes, extension services) in implementing GAP, in order to ensure that all dimensions are appropriately addressed. And we, international agencies, need to work better together as well.
In response to quality requirements of both export and domestic markets, Thailand has taken major steps towards the development, introduction and implementation of GAP standards, and it is already far ahead of many countries in the sub-region. But it is also recognized that there remain a number of significant challenges. This is what has led both organizations to organize together this important workshop.
FAO is already supporting a number of activities related to GAP for fresh fruit and vegetables in Thailand, which are described in a short background paper which you have in front of you. Let me mention in particular the project “Strengthening compliance with the SPS requirements for expanded exports of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables“, which includes a GAP component. In addition, a subregional training workshop was held in Bangkok from 28 February – 4 March 2005 on improving the quality and safety of fresh fruit and vegetables. The Vegetable Integrated Production and Pest Management programme has also been in operation since 1996. A regional study was conducted just a few months ago on the identification of food quality and safety issues in the fresh produce production and marketing chain in Asia, including Thailand. Lessons drawn from these programmes are now integrated into our GAP work, and will be presented to you during this workshop. FAO’s Good Agricultural Practices approach will be a way for FAO to help its experts work better together in order to provide multidisciplinary assistance to countries.
Our hope is that this workshop will help bring together the expertise of FAO and Thailand to review the situation of GAP implementation; examine specific issues and outstanding challenges; determine future priorities for the further development and implementation of GAP in Thailand; and review on-going assistance from FAO and other agencies to explore how such assistance could most effectively help address these priorities.
Finally, we hope that lessons learned from this workshop can ultimately be used as guidance for FAO assistance to other countries in particular in the South-East Asia region.
Your agenda is very interesting indeed. With this, I wish you a very productive and constructive meeting, and look forward to hearing about its outcome.