Monday, May 11, 2015

DA wants Bicol corn farms GAP-certified
By Danny O. Calleja

PILI, Camarines Sur, May 10 (PNA) -- While some farms in Bicol are producing good quality corn, the Department of Agriculture (DA) believes it is not good enough to be competitive in the world market.

“There is a need for our corn farms to be Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)-certified so that they qualify as source of safe and quality products for both the domestic and world market, especially that the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is set to be integrated this year,” Abelardo Bragas, the DA regional executive director, said here over the weekend.

In the integration, the ASEAN region that includes the Philippines will have free flow of capitals as well as movement of goods, services, investments and skilled labor, and the GAP certification would be the farmers’ passport to sell corn and other agricultural products to its member-states.

GAP under a national program has been in full implementation in the Philippines since 2006 but only few farmers responded to it, probably because obtaining a certification is voluntary, plus the lack of awareness on the part of the local consumers on the benefits of having a quality and safety guarantee in food commodities they buy, Bragas lamented.

In other Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Japan, GAP certification is mandatory, he noted.

GAP requires that corn must have 14-percent moisture content and that the aflatoxin content is lower than 20 parts per billion for human food and 50 parts per billion for animal feed ingredients.

Aflatoxins, which favor very hot climate like in the Philippines, have been associated with various diseases, such as aflatoxicosis in livestock, domestic animals and humans throughout the world, and are produced by a mold that grows in corn, peanuts cassava and copra due to inefficient post-production practices.

Acute aflatoxicosis in humans -- whose symptoms include vomiting, abdominal pain, pulmonary edema and convulsions -- hved been evidenced in some Third World Countries to result in coma and and death with cerebral edema and fatty involvement of the liver, kidneys and heart.

To prevent aflatoxin contamination in corn, Dr. Edralina Serrano, a member of the national GAP certification team, advises farmers to harvest their crop at maturity; dry corn ears before shelling so that the moisture content is below 25 percent to prevent mechanical damage; dry the shelled corn uniformly to 14 percent within two days from shelling; and prevent insect infestation in storage.

Farmers should not use plastic sacks in storing and avoid spreading of shelled corn with moisture content of 18 percent on the floor for more than three days.

By following these good practices, Serrano said, farmers can already qualify to the GAP certification that could be obtained free by first timers from the Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Standard (BAFS), an agency that ensures national standard for safe and sustainable agriculture.

She stressed that GAP, which has four requisites -- food is safe to eat; the environment is not harmed; the quality is right; and workers are protected, is a set of consolidated safety and quality standards formulated by the DA for the production, harvesting and on-farm post-harvest handling and storage of agricultural products like corn.

Bragas said the DA Regulatory, Integrated Laboratories and Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance divisions are helping farmers in the certification process as part of the agency’s campaign to harmonize the National GAP Program (NGAPP) with the AEC.

BAFS’ Standards Development Division chief Lara Navarro said the country needs GAP because “food safety is the language of the trade. We cannot compete in the global market if our products do not pass the GAP certification that is required particularly by the AEC” which is the integration of ASEAN countries into a single regional common market being created this year.

The regional integration's objective is to create a competitive market of over 600 million people in Asean countries -- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Navarro said many businesses have begun preparing themselves for this over three years ago ahead of time to meet the challenges of opportunities to be offered by the AEC that include tariff reductions and streamlining of certain administrative procedures.

Its benefits, according to Navarro, include the opening of more regional cooperation that will improve the scale efficiencies, dynamism and competitiveness of ASEAN members through easier movement of goods, services, investment, capital and people.

Ultimately, it will offer new ways of coordinating supply chains, or access to new markets for established products as it would make ASEAN countries more important to foreign investors, given their being considered as one node in a larger regional market of nearly 600 million people—a single market, she said.

In corn, Bragas said, that in 2013, Bicol’s corn industry attained an increase of 11.96 percent in production performance as compared with the 2012 production owing to 3.66-percent expansion of area harvested with each hectare averaging 5.08-percent increase in yield, making the region a potential source of this commodity for the AEC.

Under the Agri-Pinoy Corn Program that aims to increase production of quality corn for human consumption, feeds and industrial uses, as well as empower the farmers and increase their income, thereby improving their quality of life, DA-Bicol is expanding hybrid corn production to achieve food and feed self-sufficiency as well as generate jobs in rural communities.

Corn is the second most important crop in the Philippines.

About 14 million Filipinos prefer white corn as their main staple and yellow corn accounts for about 50 percent of livestock mixed feeds.

In Bicol, some 50,000 farm households depend on corn as a major source of livelihood, in addition to transport services, traders, processors and agricultural input suppliers who directly benefit from corn production, processing, marketing and distribution.

Corn is also processed into high-value products, such as corn starch, corn syrups, corn oil, gluten and snack foods. (PNA) CTB/FGS/DOC/CBD/PJN