Capturing the Benefits of Expanded Food Safety: Higher Incomes and Healthier Food
Food safety is a major concern for consumers, especially in low- and middle-income countries where foodborne diseases are prevalent and regulations are weak. According to the World Health Organization, unsafe food causes an estimated 600 million cases of foodborne illnesses and 420,000 deaths annually, with children under five being the most vulnerable.
Cambodians have become increasingly attuned to this issue in recent years, and recent regulations to strengthen food safety and consumer protection seek to bring the entire food chain — from farm to table — in line with international standards.
USAID Cambodia’s Feed the Future programs, Harvest II (2017-2022) and Harvest III, aim to boost agricultural development by working with private sector partners to improve their competitiveness. A Harvest II survey from early 2020 identified food safety as a major consideration for shoppers. This presented a unique business opportunity for farmers and companies that could offer safe and quality food products. If they could respond to this need, customers would be willing to pay more for safe food, increasing incomes for farmers, processors and food service providers. Accordingly, Harvest II shaped its strategy to focus more on “safe” food.
The team recognized that small-scale farmers and traders lacked the resources, knowledge and incentives to advance food safety. But when equipped with the right know-how, technologies and market linkages, local farmers could compete with cheaper products imported from industrial farms in neighboring Vietnam and Thailand. Central to capturing this opportunity was the adoption of new standards for food production and processing.
Harvest II partnered with Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to roll out Cambodia Good Agricultural Practices (CamGAP), a national standard that aims to improve the quality and safety of agricultural products in the country. By following CamGAP rules, farmers can ensure that their products meet the food safety and hygiene requirements of domestic and international markets.
Harvest II engaged with hundreds of private sector partners in the vegetable, mango, longan and cashew sectors to capture food safety opportunities. For example, Harvest II worked with Natural Agriculture Village (NAV), a woman-owned wholesaler and distributor, to train 400 farmers on organic, safe production practices consistent with CamGAP. NAV used a participatory guarantee system (PGS) to monitor whether the producers were compliant with the higher standards. NAV then signed contract farming agreements to consistently source from these farmers and supply to 76 supermarkets and food service businesses in Phnom Penh. Now, NAV works with farmers in 13 provinces to expand cultivation to meet the increasing demand for safe produce.
With higher selling prices and guaranteed contracts, producers began to step up to the challenge. Seeing the opportunity, Tasey Samaki Agricultural Cooperative (Tasey AC) began migrating its farmers from traditional, open-field cultivation of vegetables to safe vegetables produced in net houses. This allowed farmers to increase the number of harvests a year, reduce costs of agrochemicals and synchronize their product mix and production cycles with demand from larger supermarkets. This approach markedly increased sales to large buyers, selling prices and demand predictability. With Harvest II supporting Tasey AC (access to finance and markets, technical assistance and a matching grant) they constructed 260 net houses, trained 180 vegetable producers on CamGAP and invested in cool trucks to increase distribution coverage across a wide region.
Harvest II helped more than 1,000 farmers and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) complete CamGAP requirements and 3,000 farmers and SMEs adopt climate-smart agricultural practices. In tandem, Harvest II provided buyer support for implementing postharvest product management, contract farming and traceability systems. Food processors were interested in tapping into this new pool of “safe” certified producers were supported with safety certifications like International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). These initiatives enhanced the reputation and credibility of Cambodian agricultural products, and facilitated their access to more lucrative markets, such as the Netherlands, Japan, Korea, United States, United Kingdom and the European Union. These measures helped farmers and companies generate over $75 million in incremental sales in five years.
Harvest III (launched in April 2022) continues to support food safety initiatives with producers and processors in Cambodia while expanding into new areas, such as the country’s traditional open-air “wet” markets, where the project is designing initiatives supporting cold storage services, chemical residue testing, improved packaging and waste reduction.