Farmers train on good agricultural practices for emerging commodities amid COVID-19 pandemic

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Sept 15 (PIA) -- "The pandemic has greatly affected agricultural production and food systems. It has also emphasized food supply and its safety. Since hazards and contamination can occur in different stages along the production chain, it has become necessary to address food safety measures right at the farm level," said Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, Director of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA).

He said the need to help farmers to rethink and redesign their current farming methods was the reason for conducting the "Virtual Training-Workshop on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) For Emerging Agricultural Commodities Amid COVID-19 Pandemic" jointly convened by SEARCA and the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI).

The training-workshop intended to help farmers establish a set of practices in their farming operations for a more sustainable food system, enhanced farm productivity, and increased market competitiveness, thereby contributing to the overall local food security, particularly considering the challenges posed by COVID-19, Dr. Gregorio explained.

He stressed that an understanding of the approach, principles, and standards of GAP and benchmarking local GAP schemes against globally recognized guidelines are essential so that stakeholders, particularly smallholder farmers and farming families, are properly guided in implementing GAP standards in their respective farm production.

Further, Dr. Gregorio reiterated that the training-workshop's learning outcome "will lead to a better, bigger, and smarter normal that is highly relevant for the future of Southeast Asia."

"Now that the world must confront more complicated and fighting challenges, the more we recognized the need for a stronger cooperation with our stakeholders and partners, and intensify the use of quality seed inputs and appropriate technologies. That is the way to go. If we are to boost our agricultural productivity and ensure food security for the continued survival of our communities and economies," Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar emphasized in his keynote message delivered by Dr. Leocadio S. Sebastian, DA Special Adviser on Food Security and Agricultural Innovation.

Secretary Dar said "we cannot do with our business as usual approach. We need to be more innovative and unified to limit COVID-19 adverse impact on food security, nutrition, and sustainable development."

Dr. Sebastian added that "it is in this context that we welcome the timely conduct of this training on GAP. The conduct of a training such as this one has become increasingly important, considering the global consciousness and the norm of consumers for quality, safety, and hygienic products, specifically during health crisis such as the current pandemic."

He noted that the focus on GAP is included SEARCA's 11th Five-Year Plan (2020-2025), and remarked that this "clearly supports DA's overall goal of ensuring that our beloved partners, and farming families will produce safe produce and sustain the national food security."

Further, Dr. Sebastian said "we hope that this activity can be included in the activities that SEARCA and DA will implement together. Hoping that this workshop will provide useful insights on how to improve farm operations from the application of GAP."

Experts on GAP composed of representatives from DA, DA-BPI, DA-Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), academe, and private sector presented their technical know-how. Aside from the Filipino farmers and farming families, other participants of the two-day training-workshop were from local government units, development partners, international organizations, and individuals from other countries.

Mr. Manuel M. Dimalalauan, DA-ATI Food Safety Focal person, discussed the significance of the different approaches and techniques of GAP in order to guide various food systems towards sustainable production of safe food and improve the market competitiveness of key agricultural commodities. He also presented the critical elements and the key concepts in the guiding principle of GAP and its relevance to farm management, food safety, environmental conservation, and quality management.

Mr. Gerald Glenn F. Panganiban, DA-BPI Assistant Director, noted the challenges due to the pandemic and the realization of the importance of having food on the table, especially during the enhanced community quarantine period, which constrained the logistics of distribution and even farm production. He reiterated that DA-BPI advocates GAP and would like to engage the public to learn more.

The step-by-step adoption of GAP and its operationalization amid the COVID-19 pandemic was explained by Mr. Samuel Fontanilla, DA-BPI Agriculturist II. He expounded on the concept of GAP, and its principles, and techniques and how to minimize hazards and conduct of risk assessments.

Meanwhile, Ms. Cherrie D. Atilano, President, CEO and Founding Farmer of AGREA Philippines, underscored that "agriculture should not be that complicated so that our farmers can easily adopt technologies. We want to change their lives from being subsistence farmers to the farming entrepreneurs that they can be."

She discussed how simple farm practices can help improve the quality of farm produce. She shared that she is working on how to introduce fair trading practices to rural communities to allow them access to better prices.

Ms. Atilano said she wants to change people's prejudice against farmers and make farming an attractive profession for the future generation.

"Agriculture is not an option. It is a necessity," she stressed.

On the other hand, Mr. Fabian Espiritu, owner of Cavite-based Farmtec Foods, Inc., presented the experience of Farmtec as a major producer of dehydrated food ingredients in the Philippines. The company has certifications on good manufacturing practice (GMP) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the Philippines.

He discussed how his company developed the technologies and how they broadened the market in the 30 years of Farmtec's existence through the implementation of GAP.

According to Mr. Espiritu, GAP is also essential at the farm level to lessen microbial hazards at the processing level, this is to prevent an increase in processing cost and losses incurred.

In closing, Dr. Rico C. Ancog, SEARCA Operations Consultant for Emerging Innovation for Growth, said SEARCA strives to develop farmer-centric programs that link to modern networks and innovative markets and invited the participants, particularly farmers and farming families, to work with SEARCA as it aims to create a farmers network. (PIA-4A/SEARCHA)