GlobalGAP, one of the world's leading farm assurance programmes, has begun to work in partnership with the industry to counteract the problems the supply chain is increasingly encountering with duplicative audits
Set up as EurepGAP in 1997 by a group of mostly British retailers belonging to the Euro-Retailer Produce Working Group, GlobalGAP now attempts to translate consumer requirements into Good Agricultural Practice with approximately 140,000 primary producers in more than 100 countries.
Those pioneering British retailers worked together with supermarkets in continental Europe (17 had joined the group by 1999) as the supermarket sector recognised the potential impact of the growing awareness amongst consumers of issues surrounding product safety, the environment, health, safety and the welfare of workers and animals.
Their aim at the outset was to harmonise their own standards and procedures and develop an independent certification system for Good Agricultural Practice (GAP).
As a growing number of producers and retailers around the globe joined in, the European organisation grew in global significance and by the time EurepGAP changed its name to GlobalGAP in 2007, the default position had become that to supply a UK supermarket, EurepGAP, was the bare minimum standard with which a grower had to adhere.
As with most global roll-outs, this was not without its problems. The initial holistic idea espoused was that harmonised certification would mean savings for producers, as they would no longer need to undergo several audits against different criteria every year. But it didn’t quite work out like that. Every UK retailer may have asked for the minimum standard, but they and their counterparts overseas almost routinely also made additional demands of their suppliers, which of course required them to undergo separate audits and implement costly management processes.
Despite claims within the grower base that the GAP demands were becoming too costly and too onerous, however, the forward momentum of the movement was established and the process quickly spread throughout Europe and beyond. EurepGAP helped producers around the globe comply with pan-European accepted standards. Benchmarking allowed schemes such as ChileGAP and ChinaGAP to rise and they were marketed heavily in the trade as a point of difference.
Harmonisation is no longer the buzzword, but GlobalGAP is currently embarking on a push for international collaboration to reduce the cost of certification by enabling combined audits and connecting the varied and multifarious databases that exist around the world.
Guy Callebaut, vice-chairman of Belgian grower VBT/BelOrta, and GlobalGAP chairman, believes the time has come to finally put a stop to unnecessarily burdensome requirements for growers. “There is still far too much duplication of audit standards on fruit and vegetable farms. Collaboration is the fastest way to reduce them,” he says. “We are proud to present today a number of organisations with whom we were able to create sustainable, mutually advantageous partnerships that also benefit farmers.
“We will increase our efforts and extend our invitation to co-operate with more global and local systems as well as market players looking for efficient and effective mainstream solutions. As a partner we offer a global solution for farm assurance that is applicable to all farm sizes, with no ambition of competing with consumer-facing labels, downstream supply chain partners, or government audit systems.”
To that end, GlobalGAP has teamed up with British organisation LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) and Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) to launch a joint initiative (The Declaration of Abu Dhabi) together with the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform (SAI) and the International Trade Centre (ITC), and entered into partnerships with the world’s largest fresh produce firm UNIVEG and German retail giant REWE International AG.
LEAF partnership to provide a combined audit
LEAF is a leading organisation promoting sustainable agriculture, food and farming. It helps farmers to produce good food, with care and according to high environmental standards. Unlike many assurance ‘labels’, it is identified often in-store by the LEAF Marque logo, which recognises sustainably farmed products, based on LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management (IFM) principles.
“We work with farmers, the food industry, scientists and consumers, to inspire and enable sustainable farming that is prosperous, enriches the environment and engages local communities,” explains Jeremy Boxall, LEAF Marque director and LEAF commercial manager, “and the collaboration with GlobalGAP enables us to operate the LEAF certification as a true add-on, i.e. without duplication of the GlobalGAP audit”.
Rainforest Alliance partnership to combine audits with SAN standards
In order to further deliver value to farmers and in line with signals from retailers, GlobalGAP and Rainforest Alliance/SAN have agreed to explore the possibility of developing a combined audit checklist for their farm certification audits. Such an approach would enable approved certification bodies, who already carry out audits on behalf of both standard owners, to combine those audits as the basis for two certificates. The two standards will remain independent of each other for now, but discussions are aimed at exploring the possibilities of improved efficiencies and reduced auditing costs at the farm level.
“We understand the need for reducing costs of certification,” says Andre de Freitas, executive director of SAN. “This approach will not only reduce the time auditors need to spend on farms, but also minimise duplication for farmers preparing for certification of the two standards.”
Those farms that successfully achieve the required standards of the SAN obtain Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM status.
Declaration of Abu Dhabi – a milestone on road to global food security
The Declaration of Abu Dhabi for Global Food Security through Good Agricultural Practices is a private-public partnership initiated by the SAI platform, the ITC, and GlobalGAP.
It was officially launched in October 2014, but more than 40 signatories have already committed to the Declaration and begun the technical work.
The main objective of this initiative is to make it easier and more cost effective to adopt safe and sustainable practices on farms across the globe. In doing so, the hope is that the earth's productive capacity can be better protected, thus addressing the food security issues that many analysts predict in the next few decades and securing a sustainable food supply chain well into the future.
“This initiative provides a novel approach to addressing the challenge of feeding 9.6 billion people by 2050,” explains Kristian Moeller, CEO of GlobalGAP.
“It is focused on farms, where decisions are made on a daily basis that can yield a safe and plentiful food supply while protecting natural resources for future generations. It aims to establish common resources that can enhance existing standards, assessment tools and initiatives, rather than compete with them. It's a win-win situation for all involved.”
Collaboration with UNIVEG to synchronise GlobalGAP certification data
As part of the company’s Intelligent Traceability Strategy, global fresh produce operator UNIVEG and GlobalGAP are collaborating to develop interface solutions with the GlobalGAP database, in order to improve both the efficiency of due diligence processes and the quality of traceability data. The co-operation with GlobalGAP is central to UNIVEG’s strategy, which focuses on working in close collaboration with key IT partners to develop a range of specialised food safety and traceability software solutions.
“Collaboration lies at the heart of UNIVEG’s Intelligent Traceability Strategy,” said Ben Horsbrugh, the group’s director of quality management. “As a company, we believe that working in strategic partnerships with selected IT companies – and even with our competitors – produces the best and most cost-effective software solutions.”
There is a holistic bent to the UNIVEG project, but GlobalGAP’s Moeller adds that this will become more evident further down the line: “Initially this is really an UNIVEG thing, but they are using one IT provider, Muddy Boots, and once they have established the electronic interface to the GlobalGAP database, it can be used for other customers of theirs as well. And the GlobalGAP database interface can be used by any other IT software provider, once there is an agreement with us on data confidentiality.”
Co-operation with REWE International AG to collect data that measures sustainability
The Sustainability Project (NHP) is a further add-on developed by GlobalGAP together with REWE International AG and GLOBAL 2000. It provides transparency regarding on-farm sustainability metrics and measures continuous improvement, all without sharing individual metrics publicly or with downstream supply chain partners.
How can you help?
All of these initiatives, says Moeller, are just the first steps to cementing partnership initiatives that will counteract the ever-growing number of duplicate audits around the world and increase the incentive for farmers to adopt safe and sustainable production methods. Already, there have been promising talks with organic and Fairtrade standard bearers, he reports, and more developments are in the pipeline.
So, what can British buyers do to move this initiative along? “They should look into their supply chain and ask their suppliers which of the standards they demand cause duplication, and report that back to us, so we can address that with the standard owners,” Moeller says.
For their part, suppliers could “raise the issue of felt unnecessary duplication to their customers and make the buyers aware of the new initiative that aims at reducing duplication,” he adds. “The beauty is that we want to enable [growers] to combine as many standards on a single farm, this allow different buyers to have their own edge.
“The biggest gain will be that any buyer will be able to get 100% of their supply delivered exactly to their specifications, which [could be based on] one or a combination of standards – so the consumer will benefit from clear messaging and better brand profiles of the different offerings. And all of this will not be under the burden of unnecessary double auditing costs.
“There is more room for real innovation and differentiation – again, that is a general benefit for all parties, as well as the environment.”