Dossier

Certification: An imperfect, but useful, tool

In ACP countries, certification allows farmers to guarantee the quality of their produce, enter new markets and increase their income. To ensure maximum impact, this certification should be part of wider development programmes.

With judicious pesticide use and adoption of integrated pest management measures, along with other good agricultural practices, certified farmers are improving crop quality and yields. © NAMDEVCO
With judicious pesticide use and adoption of integrated pest management measures, along with other good agricultural practices, certified farmers are improving crop quality and yields. © NAMDEVCO

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

A certification and monitoring programme in Trinidad and Tobago is helping farmers to meet food safety standards to access local, regional and international markets. 

The National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation (NAMDEVCO) of Trinidad and Tobago has certified 1,000 farms under its certification and monitoring programme. Initially established as a trade protocol to facilitate exports to Barbados, following an outbreak of the Pink Hibiscus Mealy Bug in the 1990s which affects a wide range of crops, the certification is now also recognised by Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Lucia. Key components include judicious pesticide use, record keeping, and adoption of integrated pest management (IPM) and good agricultural practices (GAP) for safe food production.

NAMDEVCO certification builds the capacity of farmers by training them in IPM and GAP, in order to apply the requisite standards for agricultural production and post-harvest operations. Nirmalla Debysingh Persad, acting CEO at NAMDEVCO, says that through the implementation of GAP and IPM measures farmers are able to improve crop yields and produce higher quality crops.

Highlighting other key benefits of the scheme, Persad states that, “NAMDEVCO facilitates verification of our certified farmers’ records, which improves access to credit facilities, in particular the Agricultural Development Bank of Trinidad and Tobago’s Gro-Safe loan package. Farmers are also helped to link with buyers, and we actively pursue local, regional and international market linkages. From their side, institutional buyers – such as supermarkets, hotels and restaurants, as well as exporters – use our database services to source produce from certified farmers.”

Bringing benefits to farmers

Bhagwan Benny, a certified NAMDEVCO farmer, produces pumpkins, tomatoes, plantains and watermelons in east Trinidad. During the early 2000s he exported as much as 25,000 kg annually to the US. Benny found the certification process easy to complete, “NAMDEVCO guides you step by step, we improved hygiene practices and restricted the use of certain chemicals. When we exported, being certified enabled faster and easier processing with customs and plant quarantine. Locally, however, there is little demand for certification from buyers. In fact, some large buyers such as supermarket chains have their own quality assurance standards.”

Vice President of the Jerningham Junction Farmers’ Association, Junior Madoo, also believes that the benefits of certification are limited for local sales. Madoo, a pawpaw farmer, is diversifying into plantain, pumpkin, watermelon and maize production; 90% of his produce is sold in Trinidad, with only 10% exported regionally. Like Benny, he acknowledges, that NAMDEVCO provides buyers with preferential access to supplies from certified farmers. However, due to the large number of farmers renting land in Madoo’s association, the main challenge they experience is that, “After certification is completed for a plot, the land owner may terminate the contract and you have to start the process again.”

For exporters, the certification protocol states that produce should only be taken from certified farms, and must be prepared and packed at approved packing houses. NAMDEVCO facilitates shipping of produce by providing exporters with the opportunity to have their produce inspected at the packing house by plant quarantine officials. Himchand Beeran is also the main exporter in Trinidad as well as the largest dasheen leaf producer. Every week, he ships 800 kg to the US and supplies 4,000 kg locally, with NAMDEVCO packaging his produce for sale to local supermarkets and membership warehouse clubs.

Also exporting to the US, Madoo acknowledges that the certification is also viewed favourably by US authorities and assures customers of a good quality product. This puts him in a more competitive position, particularly as the NAMDEVCO packing house is registered with the US Food and Drug Administration as a requirement of the Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA) for all exported shipments.  NAMDEVCO is in the process of further improving the capacity of the existing certification scheme to harmonise with international food safety standards and enhance sustainable production systems.

Natalie Dookie

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With judicious pesticide use and adoption of integrated pest management measures, along with other good agricultural practices, certified farmers are improving crop quality and yields. © NAMDEVCO

SOURCE: UTZ based on https://tinyurl.com/ydda5l3z

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.