Improving Food Safety Systems Program Stakeholder Meeting Supports Efforts to Lift Export Ban
In 2014, the European Union (EU) announced a temporary ban on vegetable imports from Ghana after some failed to meet EU quality standards. This is not the first time Ghana has faced similar restrictions to their agricultural exports. Just months earlier, citrus was banned due to the presence of angular leaf spot disease. Prior to that, mangos were forbidden because of an infestation of fruit flies. Since the ban was imposed, donors and government agencies have been working collaboratively to investigate the cause of such infestations and implement safety standards to reopen the market. Beginning in May, USAID/Ghana and Farmer-to-Farmer have been a part of this larger effort through the Improving Food Safety Systems Program (IFSSP).
This July, IFSSP convened major stakeholders in Ghana’s agricultural sector in Accra to create an action plan toward mitigating challenges in Ghana’s sanitary and phytosanitary export certification system. Volunteer Daljit Bains was charged with co-facilitating a forum of government, private sector and development partners to discuss the system’s pressure points and collaboratively suggest possible solutions. Bains’ 16 years of expertise in business, compliance, government and entrepreneurship allowed her to seamlessly work with the country office team to develop the day’s agenda and solve any logistical concerns. Nearly 25 stakeholder groups and 40 participants attended the discussion, including Ghana’s Deputy Minister in Charge of Crops Honorable Ahmed Yakubu Alhassan, who provided opening remarks underscoring the importance of collaboration between all parties to work toward a brighter economic future. The meeting resulted in the:
- Identification of gaps relating to ensuring sanitary and phytosanitary compliance and the corresponding relevant stakeholders
- Validation of key production issues, which will allow for the identification of points of intervention in sanitary and phytosanitary value chain
- Compilation of stakeholder questions, comments, and concerns regarding the proposed traceability system
- Development of an action plan to implement a certification coordination committee
For Bains, the meeting was a huge step toward opening the Ghanaian agricultural market back up to international trade and providing additional opportunities to local farmers. “The parties could understand each contributor's role and responsibility and could identify areas and opportunities for collaboration,” said Bains. “This could be seen as the initial conversation from which many more conversations will continue to take place. I think the stakeholder meeting exceeded everyone's exceptions, and as a result was very successful.”
Currently, the country’s institutional framework for sanitary and phytosanitary systems lacks the necessary coordination, resources, and human capacity to communicate, implement, monitor, and enforce regulations. As a result, farmers apply pesticides too frequently, often purchase and use unregistered agri-chemicals, and do not adhere to pre-harvest intervals, making pesticide residue levels on produce questionable. The stakeholder meeting was IFSSP’s first step in establishing a cohesive plan for farmers to access educational resources and peer-to-peer training aimed at assisting in the implementation of effective preventative measures that will help deter pest outbreaks. This should have a two-fold effect: increasing the volume of viable crops and opening additional international markets, allowing local farmers to maximize their potential incomes.
Under VEGA’s Farmer-to-Farmer Special Program Support Project (SPSP), International Executive Service Corps (IESC) is implementing IFSSP to address these problems and ensure markets are accessible to Ghana’s farmers. Since May 2016, the program has focused on strengthening the sanitary and phytosanitary compliance system for fruits and vegetables, boosting public and private sector collaboration for active growth in exports, as well as encouraging greater quality and profitability for key horticultural value chains.
Currently, the European Union is conducting an audit on Ghana’s vegetable value chain that could potentially lift the ban on agricultural imports. At the same time, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) is working to conduct value chain assessments on two of Ghana’s biggest exports, chilies and mangos. FAMU has identified Dr. Raymond Hix to lead the team with a focus on integrated pest management. IFSSP is anticipated to continue until September 2018.