When it comes to food, nothing is more enjoyable than a delicious, good meal, but nothing is more important than safe food. Behind every bite and morsel is a complicated network of actors that have worked to make sure that what we are eating is good AND safe food. The inability to properly address food safety risks also means quality failures, which can, in turn, negatively impact public health, trade in food, and consumer confidence.
Ensuring food safety then, besides being a public health concern, also requires a holistic response especially in agricultural economies like Cambodia. Safeguarding the quality of food must take place in all points of the food supply chain—from the way food is grown to how it is collected, processed, packaged, sold and consumed, a chain that also concerns a myriad of actors: producers, processors, and food handlers.
NETWORKS: LEVERAGING ON CAPACITIES
In Cambodia, there is a recognized need to strengthen every link in the complex process of food production. Beset by issues like inadequate resources and technical expertise, the most apparent solution for the country’s food sector is to beef up technical capacities and skills of key actors, and then leverage on these to create networks of safe food champions. These networks, in turn, can take on the task of fostering a culture of safe food to a broader scope of stakeholders.
One noteworthy result of MI’s Food Safety Project in Cambodia is bringing public and private groups together and drawing on their respective strengths to provide stronger support to food producers and small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Government officials, for instance, work with local food safety consultants, to help SMEs comply with national and international standards for safety and quality management systems. Agricultural extension workers also work with leaders of farmer cooperatives to train farmers in adopting Good Agricultural Practices and Integrated Pest Management techniques.
STRENGTHENING PRODUCER CAPACITY
Svay Reing Agro-product Cooperative (SAC) is one group that has benefited from this network initiative. The cooperative is a major producer of organic vegetables which are supplied to hotels in Bavet town and Natural Garden, a popular grocer shop in Phnom Penh selling organic and healthy produce. Meeting product quality standards is both an expectation and a challenge. As Mr. Hong Narith, Marketing Manager of SAC, narrates, the lack of information on production techniques has been a major concern for farmer-members. “SAC has a contract with Natural Garden shops and several hotels at the border of Cambodia-Vietnam to supply high quality safe produce. But we sometimes fail to meet the market demand. Pest attack has always been a problem for farmers.”
A group of participants in the MI training course on pest and agrichemical management collaborated to deliver a localized training to the SAC farmers and introduce them to pest eradication techniques using environment-friendly practices. The connection formed among the training’s public sector participants (Svay Rieng Provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute) as well as the private sector (Natural Garden and SAC) enabled the cooperative’s farmer-members to increase their yield and command a premium price for their produce.
HELPING SMES MEET STANDARDS
MI’s food safety courses have also been instrumental in connecting SMEs with each other for possible expansion, or SMEs with relevant government organizations to assist in the improvement of enterprise systems and operations. For instance, a training participant, Mr. Song Khenglean, Managing Director of TWM Consultant, and a fellow Cambodian participant, Mr. Ly Tin, a certification official from the Department of Institute of Standards of Cambodia, worked together in delivering two localized trainings to some 34 SMEs, mostly in Phnom Penh, on GMP/HACCP principles. They further provided technical assistance to the interested SMEs to improve their facilities and company practices based on GMP/HACCP requirements.
All SMEs now have their own food safety programs, while two SMEs (Kirirom Food Production and Leang Leang Enterprise) have received HACCP and ISO9001-2015 certificates in 2017. Mr. Khenglean and Mr. Tin continue to support other SMEs to comply with international and national food standards.
A similar story of networking success is the collaboration between Mr. Lim Phara, owner of New Idea Enterprise (NIE), and Mr. Kon Vireak, founder of Sna Dai Khun Khmer Enterprise (SDKK), who both met during the National Knowledge Sharing Forum on Food Safety organized in Cambodia. With the help of Mr. Vireak, who has a good connection with the Duty Free Shop at Phnom Penh International Airport, NIE now has more than 20 of its products on display at the airport shop and has, in fact, become a best-selling brand.
The power of networks and connections lies in how individual strengths, capacities and resources can be shared, harmonized and maximized to deliver innovative solutions and actions. These, in turn, drive changes in processes and systems of various food actors along the supply chain, ultimately resulting into better awareness on food safety and healthier and safer food for all.