The 10 member countries of ASEAN have a commitment to increase the quality and marketability of their agricultural products including fresh fruit and vegetables. In order to do this, many member countries have started to introduce rigid on-farm based quality assurance schemes for farmers to follow. The 10 member countries share common farming practices, common weather patterns, common infrastructure. It makes sense to have a common standard to cover the requirements for Good Agricultural Practice for the ASEAN region. ASEAN GAP will be a harmonized standard suitable for all ASEAN countries and fits well within the ASEAN 2020 vision. It will serve as a tool for small to medium enterprises and governments to increase Intra ASEAN and Extra ASEAN trade. A common standard in this area will assist the integration of the ASEAN economic community by improving the quality of ASEAN produce.
Some ASEAN member countries have recognised the need for a QA system and
some have commenced development of these:
- Malaysia has introduced a quality control system, the Farm Accreditation Scheme of Malaysia (SALM) QA system
- The Philippines has a number of private companies involved in QA systems based on food safety and is in the process of implementing a Government backed system
- Singapore has a different approach in that it is concerned about the safety of produce coming into the country. It has developed a food safety QA system which it is currently implementing in Indonesia, a major supplier of produce to Singapore.
- Thailand has introduced a similar system, the Q system
These Quality Assurance systems cover many aspects of Good Agricultural Practice requirements. These countries have expressed an interest in an ASEAN-wide QA system based on food safety requirements. The standards sought by these countries would be at least as high as the systems that are in place at the moment. A common ASEAN GAP is currently being prepared by these countries with assistance from two Australian experts as part of the AADCP Program Stream – Quality Assurance Systems for ASEAN Fruit and Vegetables Project.
ASEAN GAP development
The proposed ASEAN GAP will be designed to be suitable for all ASEAN member countries. A working group comprising of experts from Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand is in the process of designing a suitable ASEAN wide standard for Good Agricultural Practices. This standard will be based on current systems that have been shown to work well in ASEAN countries. The final product will be a generic ASEAN-GAP that considers regional and environmental factors such as climate, farming methods and social fabric. This generic GAP would be flexible and could apply to a number of situations and food crops. It would emphasise food safety issues particularly chemical usage and microbial contamination issues.
Good Agriculture Practice
Recent developments in postharvest horticulture have highlighted the need for exporting countries to pay due diligence in the field of food safety and Quality Assurance (QA). These requirements have been cemented by Codex Alimentarius through the “farm to fork” approach. This is a stringent QA based system that covers many aspects of fruit and vegetable growing starting at choice of production sites, soil preparation, agricultural inputs and harvesting and ending at storage requirements and transport (Codex Alimentarius Commission Report, Twenty-fourth session, Geneva, 2-7 July 2001). Codex deliberations on judgment of equivalence, which is needed to establish Mutual Recognition Arrangements (MRA) for fresh produce, have also considered relevant elements in production sub-systems. This stringent QA system, for the safe production of fruit and vegetables, is generally guided by a standard known as Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs).
There is a need for producing countries to fully understand these trade requirements and to implement standards that cover at least the basic requirements for a food safety-based QA plan. This should cover both microbiological issues and chemical contaminating issues addressing pesticide residues and maximum residue limits (MRLs) applicable to the country with due regard to potential export market requirements.
GAP requirements also make reference to environmental considerations, social issues and quality issues. It is important to address these with full consideration to geographical location, climatic and weather conditions, cultural and economic issues.
The problem facing the smaller exporting countries at present is that strong importing countries like the EU are emphasising their own standards on exporters because there are no others in place. EU standards may not be suitable for developing countries involved in tropical and subtropical horticulture; due to differences in climate and environment. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) requirements suggest that good agricultural practices be designed for specific geographical regions and take into consideration the social needs of that specific region.
It is important for countries to consider their options to equivalency requirements. GAPs specific for a region will be sufficient to cover food safety aspects at all stages of farming operations from pre planting, planting, growing, harvesting, storage and transport. QA systems based on food safety can also assist with quality issues including postharvest quality.
Postharvest and Quality Matters
The issue of quality is usually dictated by market requirements. Specifications describing the quality requirements are usually negotiated as part of an order. In this section there are links to useful information that relate to quality standards and quality requirements. In addition links to postharvest practices that increase the quality of produce can be accessed.
Compendium of Quality Standards
This Compendium is a collection of resources and documents on Quality Standards specified by the United Nations and individual countries.
This section contains a collection of resources and documents providing useful information for developing and maintaining quality produce.
Under the Quality Assurance Systems for ASEAN Fruit and Vegetables Project a range of documents will be produced for workshops on postharvest matters. They will be posted on this page as they are produced.
Asian Vegetables Thesaurus
The above link leads to a useful thesaurus of Asian vegetables and includes their photographs. This was produced by the Victorian Department of Primary Industries (Australia), which has kindly provided permission for its use.
Sanitary and Phytosanitary Matters
IntroductionOne of the most significant areas to have been completed under GATT for the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement, which outlines disciplines and limits on measures to be taken to protect human, animal, and plant life and health from foreign pests, diseases, and contaminants. The SPS Agreement recognizes the right of each WTO member to adopt an “appropriate level of protection” of trade-restricting measures to protect human, animal, and plant life and health, but insists that such measures be based on a scientific assessment of the risks, be applied only to the extent necessary to achieve public health or environmental goals, and not discriminate between domestic and foreign products or threats. For further information on the SPS Agreement, please visit the Juris International Website, or view the following article by Juris International.
An understanding of SPS requirements is therefore important for exports, with different countries adopting a range of specific measures aimed at controlling the entry of diseases and harmful pests and to protect consumers from food safety issues. This section contains information that may be useful to government, growers and industry in understanding SPS requirements for trade.
Compendium of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Requirements
The Compendium of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Requirements is a collection of materials describing SPS requirements within the ASEAN region and globally.
SPS requirements aim to prevent the spread of specific plant pests and diseases to regions, which are free or have limited occurrence of these pests and diseases. Phytosanitary measures can make reference to the types of chemicals that can be used to treat produce in the field and at postharvest level. Phytosanitary measures can also include regulations relating to the level of chemical residues that is left as a contamination in the produce.
Sanitary and Phytosanitary requirements are also designed to protect consumers in the importing country from diseases, toxins, chemical residues and include food safety requirements. In the fruit and vegetable industry these food safety issues are best controlled through the production chain with good agricultural practices.
The International GAPs section contains documents that will assist Government, industry and growers achieve most food safety requirements. The ASEAN GAP that is currently being developed for the ASEAN countries will be an integral component of SPS requirements needed for international trade.