The food systems in South Asia have been undergoing significant transformation. This transformation in this region poses several challenges. Raising farm incomes and getting farmers integrated in high value chains objective is dependent on the outcomes related to different product attributes comprising quality and food safety.
Ministry of Primary Industries and the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka in collaboration with the International Food Policy Research Institute are organizing two day conference on Emerging Food Safety & Quality Risks in South Asia: Challenges & opportunities for Sri Lanka on May 8-9, 2017 at the Ministry of Primary Industries Conference Hall, Battaramulla, Sri Lanka.
The aim of the conference is to examine the South Asian food systems comprising rising urban consumption and diversification in production and consumption portfolio and the associated growing pressures for policy changes for adoption of more stringent food safety and quality standards.
Food safety is interlinked with food and nutritional security. Growing urbanization, increase in income, change in taste preference and consumer preference have led to increase in demand for safe food.
The authors collected data at the farm level from six districts of Nepal, known for their geographical and institutional diversity of milk production. Caste, number of children and elders in a family, herd size, access to information, household labour size, perception of households about food safety, assistance provided by milk buyers, and market outlet types were few of the factors associated with the adoption of food safety measures. According to the study, the adoption intensity of food safety practices shows inter and intra district variations.
In 2013, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) indicated that the dairy farmers’ inability to adhere to the food safety measures at farm level is responsible for the first important entry points of bacterial contamination in the milk chain of the country. As compared to the international standard, Nepal’s mean total bacterial count (TBC) was nine times higher on farm and 104 times higher in plant, warranting the urgent need of improving quality of milk production.
In the process of enhancing the milk production through commercial farming, it becomes more significant to address the issue of clean and hygienic milk production and distribution. Dairy farms can become a harbour of food borne pathogens. Thus, arising the possibility of contaminated milk at the farm itself, which becomes unsafe for consumption despite the proper discretion and treatment along the value chain. Issues such as animal welfare, prevalence of drug residues and antibiotics resistance can be addressed at the farm level. If not dealt with at the farm level, the consumption of contaminated milk can expose the consumers to pathogenic bacteria.
Food safety has emerged as the most valued attribute by both consumers and producers from developed and developing countries. The research findings include that the profitability of farm decreases at the higher level of the adoption of food safety measures, thus, reducing incentives to be involved in the hygienic milk production activities. This gives rise to the need for establishing pricing scheme based on the quality of milk production. While farms producing high quality milk deserve extra bonus, the ones producing low quality milk should be strictly penalized. The government needs to focus on providing subsidies in selling utensils necessary for hygienic milk production and also run a result-efficient training and awareness program.
To ignore current food security issues facing India can be likened to a doctor refusing to perform surgery because the future will offer better methods, said Muchkund Dubey of the CSD.
The conference was held 14 July at the India International Centre in New Delhi, and brought together members of government and the private sector to discuss models and processes that are scalable as well as their applicability in particular situations. The discussion also centered on topics associated with existing practices that demand more research.
Four technical sessions covered best practices related to the Public Distribution System (PDS), the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA), food security and self-help groups, and civil society organisations. The conference closed with a panel discussion on “Learning Lessons for Up-Scaling Best Practices.”
There was unanimous consensus on the definitions of best practices, food security, and livelihood security: best practices (BPs) in agriculture were defined as norms which help rural agricultural systems to self-sustain, ensuring food as well as livelihood security; food security should incorporate food availability, food access, food safety, and food nutrition; and livelihood security means income generation for the rural and urban population.
Several points were highlighted during the course of the conference. First, each state in India varies greatly in terms of socioeconomic makeup and politics, which makes the cross-implementation and upscaling of best practices based on case studies alone difficult. Second, the government and political system can make a huge difference in creating success stories. Third, the use of information technology in management of any agricultural system is necessary for creating a success story. Capacity building and diversification within agricultural systems is also necessary to protect them from shocks.
During the final discussion, Former Secretary to the Government of India Alok Sinha noted that Indian agriculture has reached a plateau; half of the population is engaged in agriculture, but it contributes to only 2-3 percent of the country’s GDP. Small projects scattered over India cannot represent the country as a whole, he said, and PDS needs to become a transparent public system where the beneficiaries know their rights. Since Minimum Support Price (MSP) and PDS are closely interlinked, the cash transfer policy can adversely affect MSP and PDS and should therefore be tested before implementation. Digital tracking is also important for procurement to end in PDS.
Agriculture impacts a large percentage of the Indian population—47 percent of the population was employed in agriculture and related activity in 2012, according to the World Bank-- and civil society has an important role serving the rural poor.
For additional coverage and lessons-learned from the conference, check out our blogs on:
The dualistic (formal and informal) dairy sector in India—characterised by poor infrastructural facility for procurement, processing, transportation, and marketing—provides a lot of scope for malpractice. The very first national survey on adulteration of milk by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, conducted in 2011, found that 70 percent of the sample did not conform to the mandated quality standards. Out of 33 states and union territories, it was found that in seven states, 100 percent of the sample did not comply with the standards. Contaminants like urea, starch, formalin, and detergent, along with water, were used as adulterants. Even in the national capital, Delhi, around 70 percent of the sample did not conform. These figures clearly indicate the lack of enforcement of food safety laws leading to low food safety in the country.
If there is regulatory failure, an alternative is to try and ensure food safety through demand pull by the consumers. This would then put pressure on the suppliers to guarantee food safety or face a punitive market response. In order for this channel to work, consumers need to be informed about what food safety entails and how to access safe food. One of the possible ways in which such information is available to consumers is through their social networks. Literature has shown both positive and negative influences of social networks on health related decisions (for example in becoming a smoker as well as in quitting it). But regarding food safety awareness and practices there seems to be little research on the role of social networks.
The study uses primary survey data conducted in the Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad districts of Maharashtra. While looking for peer effects, peer groups were defined based on age, gender, income level, and occupation. Exploiting the multi-dimensionality of food safety as an attribute the study adopts an empirical strategy that can account for individual level unobserved characteristics (such as latent knowledge regarding food safety). There were several unobserved factors that could confound these peer effects in valuation and practices related to food safety. First, there could be individual consumer’s innate health and hygiene consciousness that is particularly important in explaining valuation and choice outcomes related to food safety. Secondly, peer groups being individual specific and invariant across the different attribute valuations, sources of exogenous effects (observed and unobserved) could also be confounders and need to be accounted for. Additionally, individual unobserved characteristics could also play a role in selection bias arising from group selection.
The paper shows that if an endogenous social effect is established for a given consumer, at the same time period, the variation in her valuation over different traits of food safety (such as pasteurization and certification) is correlated with the variation in the average valuation of her peers of the same traits. As a test of robustness, the same exercise was repeated for different practices of food safety in dairy, for example boiling, checking for labels, and certification.
The study finds that, in the case of food safety, the peer group’s valuation and the practices that it follows to mitigate food safety risks seem to bear strongly on the individual’s valuation, behaviours, and choices. Paper finds evidence of significant peer effects in overall, which can be very useful for devising food safety polices.
Every year close to the budget dates in February, newspapers and magazines publish industry experts ideas and opinion on what to expect from the Budget and what not to expect from the Budget. This year IFPRI researchers have listed priorities to be included in the upcoming BUDGET 2015.
Dr. Devesh Roy, Research Fellow, IFPRI article in Economic Times on Money Where the Mouth Is puts food safety in the budget priority list. The authors explains the need to expand the budget portfolio towards food safety as it is integral part of food security. The author stresses
Investment is needed in laboratories, information campaigns and certification systems
Credible food certification system needs to be set up
Develop better domestic production standards to facilitate trade and mitigate risks in the international markets