Making Food Safety a New Standard20 February 2020
METRO’s Good Agriculture Practice Programme in Myanmar
Myanmar’s strategic geographical location in Asia, its abundance of natural resources and a large young population put Myanmar in pole position to be “Asia’s next rising star”. After five decades of economic isolation under the military regime, Myanmar re-opened its economy in 2011. Thus, the past years have seen tremendous economic and political transformations in Myanmar. These developments are also attracting more and more visitors to Myanmar.
While travellers look forward to their adventures in Myanmar – Inle Lake, Mrauk U, the Mergui Archipelago – many of them are also concerned about one topic: food safety. And they have a point – Myanmar only ranks 71st for food quality and safety among 113 countries globally in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Food Security Index (2017). Thus, food safety is a huge challenge – not only for tourists fuelling the country’s economic development, of course, but for public health. The majority of the 53 million people in the country only have access to food products which are not regarded as safe and hygienic.
Improving food safety has therefore become a top priority for the Myanmar Government recently. Myanmar’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation is increasing its efforts to come up with short and long-term initiatives, including regulations to improve food safety standards within the country – reflecting that food safety covers a wide range of processes from “farm to fork”. In line with these initiatives, the Ministry launched the Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) Protocol and Guidelines in 2017 for 15 crops. The GAP thus sets new standards for farmers, requiring them to modernise their processes regarding the production of safe and high-quality products for local and international markets.
Small farms are the backbone of Myanmar’s agricultural sector, which provides employment to about 56 percent of the labour force and is a source of livelihood for about 70 percent of the rural population. On these small farms, agricultural activities are carried out typically manually with low levels of mechanisation. Food safety starts right here, at the farm level. It is here, where the protection of consumers against the hazards of foodborne illnesses begins – e.g. by making sure that the amounts of certain residues stay below the permitted level or by reducing microbial contaminants and heavy metals.
Given the challenging agricultural conditions in Myanmar, the private sector plays a vital role in improving food safety from “farm to fork”. METRO Myanmar has become part of this community of food safety drivers. First, it has become Myanmar’s first HACCP-certified international wholesaler – a stamp of credibility regarding METRO’s commitment to food safety and its efforts in offering high-quality products to the customers. Then, METRO Myanmar has kicked off a programme to train its fruit and vegetable suppliers in improving their food safety record: The Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) programme was launched in September 2018.
The crop training covers a number of principles which apply to on-farm production and post-production processes, resulting in safe and healthy food and non-food agricultural products while considering economic, social and environmental sustainability. The training includes food safety, environmental management, quality of production, workers’ health, safety & welfare as well as pest and disease prevention. Each crop training takes two days. Depending on the crop, it takes approximately four months of monitoring until the harvest period begins and certification can be issued.
The GAP programme was launched with the Myanmar Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation as well as with the local farmers’ community. To carry out this programme, METRO Myanmar hired a third-party training organisation, consisting of consultants, agronomists, project managers, marketers, business analysts and support staff working in multicultural, multidisciplinary teams. So far, METRO has established the programme in Aung Ban (Shan State) and Pwint Phyu (Magway Region) of Myanmar.
Since its launch, METRO Myanmar has trained approximately 200 farmers with a focus on four crops: tomato, potato, garlic and onion (50 farmers for each crop). Amongst them, 62 farmers were awarded GAP certificates by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation.
By investing in the know-how of farmers, METRO and its partners also support Myanmar’s economic and social development: Well-educated farmers elevate the sector’s productivity and the quality of its products. This again will raise incomes and create new jobs along the value chain. From 2005 to 2015, progress in the agricultural sector was directly responsible for a 46 per cent reduction of poverty in Myanmar.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC), member of the World Bank Group, has therefore joined METRO Myanmar in its mission in February 2019. With a $20 million financing, IFC supports METRO in improving the quality and availability of local and safe produce to the benefit of consumers in Myanmar. On this basis, METRO can further increase the number of local suppliers – thus creating jobs in the agricultural sector as well as indirect employment in food processing and logistics.