As demand for fresh produce grows, the need to assure food safety and public health and at the same time run a cost-efficient farm business has now become a higher standard since COVID-19. For at least two years, the National Agricultural Marketing Development Corporation (NAMDECVO) has been on a mission to increase consumer confidence in the safety of locally produced fresh fruits and vegetables. Farmers now have a locally relevant, voluntary National Standard for Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) as a guide. The National GAP establishes the minimum requirements for fresh produce food safety and quality, at production, harvesting, post-harvest handling, packaging, storage and transportation stages.
Traceability is also essential to food safety, and also starts with the farmer. However, the challenge continues to be proper farm record keeping. For the farmers who do keep paper records, relying on one’s memory or having pen and paper at hand to record farm operations is neither a good, nor smart practice. In today’s digital age and with easy access to smart devices, information technology has made the capture, storage and retrieval of information, in any format, simple, instant and lasting.
Recall that the October 2020/21 Budget envisioned T&T as a fully digital economy, driven by e-governance, e-banking and e-commerce. These sectors have already taken decisive steps towards this target. If the agriculture and farming sector is late or left out of the transition from manual/paper-records operations to digital management systems, then the sector may become even more sidelined and uncompetitive with imports.
The Cropper Foundation (TCF), the InterAmerican Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and NAMDEVCO are collaborating to build an app to do just this – make farm record keeping simple, convenient, practical and reliable. This app project is also seen as a precursor for the voluntary National GAP standard, in learning lessons for preparing farmers to comply with these protocols. App developers, FaSoVe Product Design and Development Co. Ltd. previewed the information base for building a user-friendly app with the IICA-TCF-NAMDEVO team and a mix of farmers at the NAMDEVCO Packinghouse on Wednesday 21 January.
The consultation discussed, clarified and determined the most useful information to be collected via the app and any other aspects that would make the app useful to farmers – many of whom brought their knowledge and experience about similar attempts that have been tried in the past to improve farm record keeping. Farmers at the consultation emphasized that while such an app would be very useful, they will also need training in its use and other complementary support to ensure that they can maintain a profitable and sustainable farming business.
This app development is funded under the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Lab-funded project ‘Making Agriculture Profitable and Sustainable’ (MAPS) project, which aims to promote the wide adoption of more sustainable farming practices by farmers through increased market access and uptake. This is being currently piloted through the marketing of ‘pesticide safe fresh produce, fit for human consumption’ under its ‘GROW’ brand of fresh produce, packaged and distributed by the NAMDEVCO Packing House is being sold in select MASSY supermarkets in Trinidad.