In a recent Business Platform Meeting organized by GhanaVeg on the theme, ?Phytosanitation and Green Label Certification?, it came to light that, Ghana is among countries with the highest number of interceptions regarding fruits and vegetables exported to the EU according to EUROPHYT- European Union Notification System for Plant Health Interceptions.
Meridian Agricultural Services (MAS) 2015, Graphs Developed from Data Produced by EUROPHYT
The monthly and annual EUROPHYT reports are normally presented in three key categories. These include ?interceptions due to the presence of harmful organisms on imported fruits and vegetables?; ?interceptions due to incomplete documentations (i.e. missing phyto certificate and plant passport, false information, missing additional declarations; plant not included on the plant passport, incorrect identity declared on documents, prohibited plants, plant products and others. The last category provides information on interceptions covering non-compliances related to ?objects? that aid the movement of export fruits and vegetable such as wood pallets, wooden crate, packaging materials, wood packing materials etc.
Notification was published by the EU on okra, yams and bananas from Ghana for excessive treatment with chemicals in 2012. The level of interceptions hit the peak in 2014 (332 interceptions) due to the detection of thrips and moulds especially on chillies and as many as 24 interceptions due to incomplete documentations. At the verge of been faced with a ban, the PPRSD, GAVEX and other stakeholders agreed to place a voluntary ban on the export of chillies from Ghana to the EU to allow the industry to find a solution to this challenge before export commences. Some of the measures put in place include:
? The constitution of a Technical Committee by the PPRSD,
? Improvement in the inspection time frame by PPRSD,
? Improvements in infrastructure i.e. lighten facilities at the airport.
? Attempts to get all exporters to register their farmers to aid dissemination of extension advise and monitoring of production activities,
? Producer training,
? Peer monitoring of the activities of GAVEX members etc,
Despite the interventions put in place, the situation is aggravating. At the end of May, 2015 32 interceptions due to incomplete documentation have been recorded compared to 24 interceptions in 2014. Likewise, interceptions due to presence of harmful organisms is already 167 compared to 332 recorded 2014. To nib this problem in the bud and avoid imposition of a looming ban on this budding industry, it is important that all stakeholders acknowledge the need to review the root causes of this situation and take a second look at the interventions been put in place to address the situation.
The Foundation; ?Dealing with the Challenges Associated with Market Shift?
Many exporters do not have their own production fields and do source from smallholder vegetable farmers in the Greater Accra, Volta, Eastern and the Central Regions of Ghana i.e. the Southern Fruits and Vegetable belt. These farmers have traditionally produced for the local markets where timeliness of production; product quality; pesticides residue; presence of organisms and general health and safety of the farmer, members of the community and final consumers of the end products have never been an issue. Note that, most of these farmers are either not educated at all, or have very minimum education and normally do not appreciate these issues. These farmers form the sub-structure or the foundation upon which our budding vegetable industry is built.
Ability to produce vegetable for the local market does not provide the qualification for producing for the export market. Whilst standards are not enforced on the local market, the situation on the export market is completely different and requires a 360o re-orientation. This re-orientation means that producers need to appreciate the key underlying principle of this industry:
? Operations of this industry are time bound;
? That, the food quality, health and safety issues can never be compromised;
? That, the actions and inactions of each industry member has a global effect on the country?s ability to stay and compete on the market.
? That, sometimes collective rather than individual efforts, social controls are necessary tools required to address some of the production and post harvest challenges identified with the industry. It is not about an individual farmer, exporter or government!
When farmers fail to respect harvesting timelines, the exporter arrives at the port late and puts pressure on Produce Inspectors to rush the inspections process. Sometimes, produce inspection drags on deep into the night? Note, even with broad day light, it is difficult to identify adult thrips or their lavae, let alone doing this in the night. The level of diseases and pest resistance build up in some of the fruits and vegetable production landscapes requires coordinated collective management approach to dealing with the challenges. This means that, farmers in such a production landscape would require technical guidance to solving these challenges.
Re-orienting farmers means a close and consistent relationship between farmer and exporter; finding innovative ways to create farmer assess to improved seeds and approve agrochemicals; developing innovative ways to improve farmer access to advisory services from both private and public sources or through PPP arrangements.
Dealing with the Competence and Capacities of Exporters and Exporter Associations
There is no doubt that the Fruits and Vegetable Export Business is one of the most complex and tricky business to do. The industry thrives on a good understanding of the market dynamics in addition to ability to coordinate production, supply chain logistics and financial management. The business even becomes much more complex when an exporter has to source for produce from smallholder farmers.
The actions and inactions of some vegetable exporters can just be translated to ?shooting the industry in the foot?. Some exporters do not have farms and are not connected to any smallholder producer group. These exporters go round and buy any vegetable that they come across. Others intentionally or unintentionally end up buying produce from smallholder farmers who have conducted production through the sponsorship of other exporters. Others are known for even buying and consolidating produce at the airport. Due to lack of storage facility at the airport, almost all exporters resort to the just-in-time approach to export. However, many others delay with delivery to the port for PPRSD Inspector to properly take their time and inspect the commodities.
It is however refreshing to note the many interventions been put in place by various stakeholders to address these challenges. The PPRSD/MOFA has directed exporters to identify and register smallholder suppliers with emphasis on farmers who can at least read and write. With this, the Ministry believe it can deploy staff to train and periodically review the production activities of these farmers to ensure that production is done in accordance with laid-down guidelines. GAVEX as an association has put up a committee to self-police its members to ensure that, members purchase vegetables from registered, trained and approved farmers. In addition, a technical training has been organized for selected exporters through the leadership of PPRSD on SPS requirements of the EU market and was delivered by a consultant from EDES/COLEACP.
The Need for Stronger Industry Leadership and Consistency in Application of Interventions
For the fruits and vegetable industry in Ghana to grow, the private sector must move away from expecting government and other stakeholders to take the lead. The private sector must take the lead in this industry and government and other stakeholders must support in creating the conducive environment for this to happen. This of course can be done by re-enforcing the various associations by emphasising on the need for sound governance/management structures and allowing the secretariats to function without selfish personal interferences. The emerging industry challenges require nothing short of professionalism and sound strategies to take the hooks off to allow the industry to emerge. There are classical examples in other sectors and other parts of the continent to show how much industry associations can contribute to the growth of industry.
Government and her agencies also have crucial role to play in this budding industry. The current farmer extension ratio is a major setback to every single initiative to support smallholder farmers. Moreover, the few we have on the field are not adequately equipped to do their work. The truth must be told, no competent or control authority can completely block all these infractions. However, the rate of interception of commodities passing through our ports undermines the capacity of PPRSD Inspectors at our ports. In a recent discussion on this topic, someone asked me ?how come some of these infractions are not detected here?? Is it lack of human resources? Is it lack of technical capacity? Or, lack of logistics and infrastructure? PPRSD as a competent authority in this situation must rise to the occasion. The government must ensure PPRSD is appropriately staffed and the technical capacity of inspectors upgraded. Not only that, PPRSD as an institution should consider reviewing their Standard Operating Procedures(SOP?s) to be able to meet the needs of the times. And finally, the government and private sector must equally ensure that this important agency is appropriately resourced to properly function as required.
Whilst the support of the various development organizations, projects and NGO?s involved in this industry is laudable, it is important to put in context that, strategies deployed be based on a sound understanding of the past, the presence and future prospects of the industry. This is important for streamlining development interventions to properly focus on the needs of the industry to ensure efficient use of resources. There is the need for infusion of knowledge on sound business management practices and models, systems development (seed, inputs etc,), supply chain infrastructure etc. This in addition to SPS issues should be pursued through a grand industry strategy, but not in isolation in order to avoid the fire-fighting approaches been adopted by the industry. A grand industry development strategy is required for the industry to emerge and grow. It is important at this point to acknowledge the genuine efforts by GhanaVeg, GIZ and the few other organizations setting the agenda for addressing these all important issues.
Reviewing our Approach to SPS as well as Voluntary Standards Enforcement
The present situation where there is general lack of adherence to Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS) or even Private Voluntary Standards (PVS?s) such as the GlobalGAP standards is suicidal to the industry. As at June 2015, none of GAVEX members was certified at least GlobalGAP. Whilst compliance to PVS?s alone is not enough to completely address the current challenges, it provides a good starting point for the key stakeholders i.e. exporters or market actors to initiate the needed steps to addressing these challenges. Whilst most GAVEX members have taken the decision to venture into production whilst extending good production practices to their associated smallholder farmers, efforts would be made to incorporate standards certification into this strategy.
In conclusion, all these challenges are surmountable. However, we need to galvanize all efforts and move from the talking phase to the implementation phase. We need all hands on deck and we need leadership. Time is not on our side.
Writer By: Aaron Attefa Ampofo, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org