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GLOBALG.A.P. c/o FoodPLUS GmbH - Brian Windsor:

GLOBALG.A.P. standard allows more room for farms’ own stories

Attendees at last week's South African stop on the GLOBALG.A.P. Tour heard from a senior technical expert on GLOBALG.A.P. IFA Fruit and Vegetables Brian Windsor (who has himself been a farmer and an auditor) on the continuous improvement of their standards to encompass the dizzying variety of farming experiences. "We invite producers to get actively involved – that's how we make GLOBALG.A.P work for everybody. The standard has over twenty years' experience in measuring farm practices."

He noted that primary production was under unprecedented scrutiny from many quarters, with a pressing need for food safety and traceability. "Environmental sustainability is a very important factor at the moment, and our role is important in mitigating climate change," he told the conference in Paarl.

The sixth version of GLOBALG.A.P.'s Integrated Farm Assurance (IFA) basic annual audit requires producers to acknowledge a farm's position as an agricultural ecosystem in constant communion with its broader landscape. Over 200,000 IFA Fruits & Vegetables-certified producers based in 132 countries make a tangible difference on their over four million hectares of covered and non-covered land.

Brian Windsor at the GLOBALG.A.P Global Tour in Paarl, Western Cape, last week

IFA Version 6 is "simpler and easier"
The industry requires a more flexible, risk-based Integrated Farm Assurance standard, of which the IFA Smart is the flagship edition, and it constitutes by far the majority of GLOBALG.A.P. audits as conducted by more than two thousand auditors from over 170 certification bodies (CBs) worldwide.

In version 6, he explained that principles are written in statement form to describe a desired outcome and are expounded upon by criteria (which will probably not apply to every farm). Principles address topics like plant protection products, integrated pest management, energy efficiency, waste, and water management, as well as fertilizers and biostimulants (and their potential for environmental contamination, which is a new addition) – every way in which a farm influences the ecosystem.

"It's purposefully less prescriptive so that there are more ways for a producer and for a country through its national interpretation guidelines (NIG) to comply. A producer needs to be able to explain more: every producer does something different, often for a very good reason, so that producer can explain the rationale behind their choice."

Recognition of farms as agricultural ecosystems
Areas with legally recognized conservation value that were converted to farming use between 2008 and 2013 must either be under restoration already or planning must be undertaken for its intended restoration, while such habitats may not have been converted to farmland at all since the beginning of 2014.

"That sounds quite ominous, and a lot of people contact us about it," he remarked. "There are a million ways to comply with the principle – all farmers need to do EIAs anyway, all farmers need to get plow certificates, you use Google Earth and satellite data – there are so many ways you can show that you comply. I don't see this as a problem in South Africa, but please reach out if you're unsure."

He added: "We're fortunate in South Africa: our whole farms are ecosystems, we don't have the scenarios that exist elsewhere in the world. The recommendations are a starting point and offer helpful questions to get us on the right track where the world is going. For instance, the farm enables the formation of organic carbon in soil and in biomass, and it contributes to removing atmospheric greenhouse gases."

The recommendations to the IFA version 6 are separate from the non-negotiable Major Musts and the Minor Musts, which allow a 5% margin but carry over in more depth to add-on certifications.

Version 6 asks producers (or producer groups – South Africans don't make enough use of the group version of IFA) to analyze their current practices and show what they are doing to manage biodiversity on the farm, plastics, and waste, treated water during and post-harvest, supplying metrics to track their performance.

Photo by Michael Tucker

PPEs have been supplied – but are they worn?
Another refinement in IFA version 6 is the requirement that it will now be incumbent on the producer to convince the auditor that the obligatory personal protective equipment (PPE) supplied to staff, are in actual fact, used through, for example, proof of repeat purchases.

Windsor reiterated the importance of workers' rights and two-way communication, which is taken a step further in version 6, with a grievance mechanism available through which workers can file concerns in a confidential way and without fear of retaliation. "There is a very big focus on worker wellbeing. I don't think there's a producer here who doesn't realize how important that is."

A refrain at the GLOBALG.A.P. conference was continuous improvement, which the organization itself takes to heart, Windsor said, through improvements to its IT system and ongoing revision of how effectively they're holding out solutions to producers who are increasingly held accountable for all of their on-farm actions.

Similarly, an increasingly outcomes- and risk-based standard will require producers to show their plan to continuous improvement, in effect telling their own story and in their own words.

For more information:
Brian Windsor
Tel.: +49 221-5777-6808
Email: [email protected]