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Dhaka Tribune

What does it take to produce safe vegetables?

The consumers’ willingness to pay more for safe vegetables is a crucial incentive to agribusinesses to upgrade their practices

Update : 26 Aug 2019, 11:26 PM

Consumers today could hardly be faulted for being wary of vegetables in light of the indiscriminate usage of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and other chemicals that can affect health.

However, in the south-west region of Bangladesh, a remarkable trend has developed – the establishment of trust between consumers and producers with the rise of safe vegetable farming.

But what makes for a safe vegetable?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “a collection of principles to apply for on-farm production and post production processes, resulting in safe and healthy food, and non-food agricultural products, while taking into account economic, social and environmental sustainability” is what defines Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) – an approach these farmers are adhering to as much as possible.

The consumers’ willingness to pay more for safe vegetables is a crucial incentive to agribusinesses to upgrade their practices.

Shwapno, a chain store in Bangladesh owned by ACI Logistics, introduced a safe food brand called “Shuddho” in April 2018, just a year after they became a member of GlobalGAP, the worldwide standard for quality agricultural products.

The badge and the brand were not easy to come by. The supermarket chain needed guidance and a little financing to move forward. This is where they came across the Agricultural Value Chains (AVC) project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The USAID noted that producing safe vegetables is quite possible if farmers could be convinced not to use excessive pesticides through proper demonstration. 

Aniruddha Hom Roy, private sector adviser to the USAID, said: “Our fundamental goal was to reduce the use of harmful pesticides so that people can get healthy vegetables.”

The USAID tried to introduce GlobalGAP and its importance to the farmers, but discovered that the problem was rampant throughout the supply chain. They consulted GlobalGAP who collaborated with the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) and other organizations. This is where they met Shwapno, who expressed an interest in applying the GlobalGAP standards at their agro-supply chain. 

USAID through GlobalGAP provided training to the hundreds of farmers and workers in Shwapno’s supply chain.

What are Shuddho’s standards?

Shwapno’s Shuddho brand emphasizes on two factors - Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) that provide a measurable trading standard that help ensure food produced using pesticides is suitable for consumption, and Pre-Harvest Interval (PHI).

PHI is the period that starts on the day the chemical pesticide is sprayed up till the time the chemical residue remains on the crop or fruit. Only after the lapse of the PHI will the crop or fruit be free from any chemical residue and will be considered fit for consumption.

Aniruddha said they tried to know the MRL and PHI of some local vegetables and maintain the standard pesticide and chemical fertilizer dose which are essential for growing vegetables. At the same time emphasis was given to blend organic fertilizer and integrated pest management (IPM) to the production practice for soil and environmental concerns. The farmers under the project also use yellow sticky pad and pheromone trap that reduces dependency on pesticides.

The USAID funded AVC project had ended in January after over five years of operation. But their initiatives are being scaled and continued by Shwapno. 

How do farmers benefit?

Oliur Rahman produces crops for Shuddho from Shahbazpur, Jessore. Currently he cultivates pointed gourd on his 16 decimals of land. Every week, he sells 150kg to Shwapno.

“They came to me and asked to follow some rules. I agreed. They buy all vegetables I produce,” he said.

Learning and adopting safer farming practices helps them in two ways—an increase in their income varying from 15% to 60% and hassle-free sales.

“We used to take our crops to the nearby wholesale market and wait for hours. The wholesalers fixed a price for vegetables; sometimes very low. There were even days when we could not sell anything,” said Oliur.

Now, Shwapno representatives supervise production and collect vegetables from them directly in higher price than the market. Shwapno can give farmers a premium price as there is no middle man in the supply chain.

Shwapno formed a committee with representatives from the business, farmers, and local elected body to collect everyday wholesale price of vegetables from the nearest market. They add a premium of 15%-30% to the Shuddho farmers and the day’s vegetables are collected at that price.

Shwapno’s Head of Business Md Mahdi Faisal told Dhaka Tribune that they were in a dilemma as there was no organization to certify fresh vegetables that consumers could trust.

“When GlobalGAP came to our country, we did not want to miss the opportunity. We launched the Shuddho brand and trained 800 farmers who maintain the standards. Most of the farmers now cultivate for us,” he said.

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