SAN AGUSTIN, PILI, CAMARINES SUR – To ensure food safety and assure quality of agricultural products while taking into account environmental protection and that of workers’ health, safety and welfare, the Department of Agriculture urges farm owners to take advantage of  Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) Certification Program through conduct of online trainings.

Over 100 participants composed of farm owners, Agricultural Extension Workers (AEWs), and personnel of Research Outreach Stations (ROSes)  attended the series of online Advocacy Training & Updates for Stakeholders on  GAP Certification held on April 15, 2021 for Camarines Sur; May 5 for Cam. Norte; May 6 for Albay; May 10 for Masbate; and May 18 for Catanduanes.

Rodel P. Tornilla, DA Bicol Regional Executive Director (RED), in his welcome message, said that food safety, which is an integral part of food security, is essential in protecting consumers from the hazards of foodborne illnesses that may be introduced at different stages of the food value chain starting from production at the farm and all the way to retail and food preparation. “As such, following a preventive control process is an important aspect to consider for the elimination of sources of food safety hazards before consumption instead of relying only on inspections at the end of the process” he added.

That’s why the Department of Agriculture is implementing regulations on food safety requirement as provided for under  Republic Act No. 10611, or “An Act to Strengthen the Food Safety Regulatory System in the Country to Protect Consumer Health and Facilitate Market  Access of Local Foods and Food Products”. It also known as the Food Safety Act 0f 2013, and the ASEAN Good Agricultural Practices (ASEAN GAP) for the production of fresh fruits and vegetables in the ASEAN Region.

Director  Tornilla also said that PHILGAP program is aimed at facilitating access of our farmers’ produce to neighboring ASEAN market and other  foreign markets. “The ASEAN GAP was developed in 2006 to harmonize existing national GAP program or to serve as a model for adoption in countries without a national GAP scheme in order to facilitate trade between those countries. Other countries like Malaysia, Indonesia,  and Singapore started with Good Agricultural Practices in 2004. Thailand started earlier in 2003, Vietnam in 2008­, Cambodia in 2010 and Brunei in 2014.  In the Philippines, the PhilGAP started in 2006,”  Tornilla explained.

Meanwhile, Rosita Imperial, Chief of the Regulatory Division which implements PHILGAP Program said that the Code of Good Agricultural Practices is a set of consolidated safety and quality standards formulated by the DA for the production, harvesting and on-farm postharvest handling and storage of agri produce. This code of practice takes into account the Philippine GAP for Fruits and Vegetables which is based on the concept of Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points  and quality management principles from farm to table with emphasis on the following six (6) key areas: Farm location;  Farm environment; Farm structure and facility maintenance;  Farming practices;  Worker’s health and safety; and Farm management (farm records, traceability, staff training).

“The practices in this Code aim to prevent and minimize risk occurrences that include those of food safety, environmental impact, worker health, safety and welfare, and product quality. Compliance of farm owners  with this set of practices enhances the trade and competitiveness of the country’s agricultural products as well as promote consumer protection against food safety hazards”, Imperial explained.

Imperial added that PHILGAP Certification is based on the on-site pre-assessment or inspection at the farmer’s farm location. Validation of farm is also being conducted at various stages of crop production. It also entails dissemination of information on the protocol and standards. During validation,  the farm will be assessed if compliant to the requirements of health and safety. Farm records including  the use of fertilizers, mulches, substrates, fumigation, and irrigation will also be checked. In the event of non-compliance, corrective actions will be recommended.

The principles behind Good Agricultural Practices are: CLEAN SOIL, CLEAN WATER, CLEAN HANDS and CLEAN SURFACES.

The topics discussed during the online training were: GAP Certification Application, Requirements and Updates; and GAP on Produce Quality discussed by Helen Jovillano, Agriculturist I of Regulatory Division; GAP on Food Safety by Gizel Flores, Agriculturist I; Workers Welfare, Health and Safety by Arlene San Buenaventura, Senior Science Research Specialist; and Environmental Management by Edith Pelin, Senior Agriculturist and GAP Inspector.

There are 28 GAP certified farms in Bicol as of this writing: 5 in Albay; 2 in Camarines Norte; 16 in Camarines Sur; 4 in Masbate; and 1 in Sorsogon. (LOVELLA P. GUARIN / RAFIS 5 / photo credits: Emil Pasumbal)