Consumers will be able to easily identify which products are safe and healthy and has been produced following Good Agricultural Practices (PhilGAP) with the implementation of bar coding of all products coming from PhilGAP certified farms. The project is a collaboration between the DA – Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) and DA – Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) and the UPLB Foundation.

At present, PhilGAP certified commodities either sold fresh or processed products do not have distinguishing factors from a vast array of products. The bar codes on PhilGAP certified products will also serve as a traceability system tool which will help trace fresh produce back to its source which may be growers, handlers, wholesalers and retailers, thereby preventing or eliminating hazards that pose risks to human health. Dr. Edralina P. Serrano, retired UPLB professor and project leader of UPLB Foundation said that a web-based traceability system for this purpose has already been developed  and is being put in place.

Dr. Serrano also stressed that the need for traceability cropped up due to food safety concerns, changes in lifestyle, increased demand and consumption of fresh foods and vegetable, and outbreaks of food borne illness attributed to consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Move to make Quality and Safety Assurance Programs mandatory

Dr. Serrano added that unlike in European and Asian countries where GAP certification of farms is mandatory, in the Philippines, it is voluntary. To be competitive in the midst of trade liberalization, the Department of Agriculture has a move to enforce compliance to Quality and Safety  Assurance Programs such as PhilGAP for fresh fruits and vegetables; Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) for processed produce; and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points  (HACCP) for the food industry. HACCP certification is an international standard defining the requirements for effective control of food safety.

Dr. Digna Sandoval, Assistant Director of Bureau of Agricultural Research who represented Dr. Nicomedes Eleazar, pledged 100% support of the DA-BAR to the new project.

Training on Traceability System for Fruits and Vegetables

To jumpstart the barcoding project in the region, the DA Regulatory and Research Divisions in collaboration with UPLB conducted a Training on Traceability System for Fruits and Vegetables from PhilGAP Certified Farms on July 11, 2018 at Sonrisa Farm in Magarao, Camarines Sur. Three representatives from each of the GAP certified farms in Bicol learned how to properly record their farm data and information starting from selection of planting material, fertilizer application, irrigation, pest and disease control to harvesting and packing in the record book provided by the UPLB. Dr. Serrano, who served as resource speaker, stressed that record keeping is an essential part and the start of traceability. The information in record book should be captured in photo and sent by the farmer to the DA regional office for encoding. As the regional data hub of the production and postharvest practices applied in the farms, the DA regional office will  send the captured data to the Bureau of Plant Industry which will process and release the bar code back to the DA regional office.

Rosita Imperial, Chief of the DA Regulatory Division in Bicol said that PhilGAP refers to the practices that address environmental, economic and social sustainability for on-farm processes, and which result in safe and quality food and non-food agricultural products. PhilGAP follows four (4) modules: 1) Food safety; 2) Product quality 3) Environmental management; and 4) Worker’s health, safety and welfare.

Application and costs of required analysis for PhilGAP certification are free and the certificate is valid for two (2) years.

PhilGAP certified farms in Bicol

A number of farms in the region have been certified as PhilGAP compliant. These include: Mauswag Agribusiness, Inc. in Pili, Camarines Sur processing moringga as food supplement; Abalayan rice and corn farm in Calabanga, Cam. Sur; NVAC farm in Naga City, Cerilo’s farm in Tigaon, Portugal farm in Buhi and Adante’s farm in Iriga City all in Camarines Sur and are engaged in corn production; VK’s farm in Tigaon producing pinakbet vegetables; Mikeliz farm in Calabanga, Cam. Sur and JayArchel farm in Basud, Cam. Norte both engaged in dragon fruit farming; Rosalina Tan of Pili, Cam. Sur; La Huerta Farm in Baao, Cam. Sur and Pilar, Sorsogon municipal nursery, both engaged in vegetable production;   and Labo  Progressive Multipurpose Coop (LPMPC) in Camarines Norte. The coop is exporting decorticated pineapple fiber to an international textile company based in United Kingdom. It has 8,235 farmer members. Some 33 pineapple farmer members are PhilGAP certified since 2012 and they were among the first batch of GAP certified farms in the country.

One of the participants, Rebecca Purisima, owner of PhilGAP certified VK’s farm in Tigaon, Camarines Sur, has full of hopes that her products could now be properly labelled. “Laking pasasalamat ko po na magkakaroon na ng identity ang aking produkto,” Purisima enthused. She is currently a cooperator of Angat Buhay Program of Vice President Leni Robredo, supplying fresh vegetables to hospitals in Camarines Sur.

Also present during the training were Agricultural Extension Workers supporting DA-BPI PhilGap certification; Luz R. Marcelino, Chief of the Research Division; Corazon A. Orbon, CBES Superintendent; and staff of DA Regulatory and Research Divisions who will constitute the Regional Data Hub of the project. (Lovella P. Guarin/ photos by Eduardo D. Collantes, Jr.)