Sanitary and Phytosanitary Distance Learning: A 10 Year Anniversary Celebration on World Food Safety Day
Modern and reliable food safety systems are critical for countries to ensure access to safe and nutritious foods for their people, as well as to unlock trade and market access opportunities for their agricultural and food products. To achieve these goals, the Food Safety Network (FSN), a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), USAID and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), partnered with Texas A&M University (TAMU) under the auspices of the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative to develop an international training program on core sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) — comprising animal and plant health and food safety — topics. This year marks the 10th anniversary of this project, which has seen exponential growth and evolution since it first began. This article shares the journey of the SPS Distance Learning Program over the past 10 years and explores its hopes for the future.
How it Began
In 2008, research captured Pakistan’s challenges to comply with international plant health standards, particularly the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) standards, which were limiting exports of Pakistan’s plant-based products. In 2009, the United States and Pakistan developed goals and priorities to address this issue for Pakistan through SPS regulatory capacity building. In 2010, through a new interagency partnership between USAID and USDA, the SPS Distance Learning Program was launched with the goal of strengthening Pakistan’s ability to comply with international trade standards for plant-based products. FAS and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), along with other USDA agencies and the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), led the SPS Distance Learning Program in partnership with Pakistan’s Ministry of National Food Security and Research, Department of Plant Protection (DPP), and coordinated with local provincial governments.
The SPS Distance Learning and Training Program uses a blended learning approach, which combines online and in-person instruction to teach concepts and gives learners access to content anywhere in the world. Originally, the online modules were made available via CABI’s website and each ranged from one to four hours of learning time. While the modules were intended to be completed online, due to challenges with consistent Wi-Fi connections, the modules were delivered to Pakistan on a USB drive in English and Urdu.
Participants would complete an online module on their own or during dedicated review sessions hosted by CABI. From there, learners would apply concepts they learned within the modules to real-world activities during the two three-day, in-person workshops in Pakistan. To round out each experience, participants would attend workshop review sessions hosted in Islamabad, Karachi or Lahore.
The implementation of the SPS Distance Learning Program in Pakistan has had a lasting impact on Pakistan’s agricultural sector. Through their participation in the program, the country went from facing challenges in exporting mangos to seeing 100% of their mangos passing IPPC guidelines. The SPS Distance Learning Program inspired changes in policies and the organization of SPS units in federal and provincial governments, but the country has also seen improved implementation of SPS techniques and procedures in the field, along with increased staff confidence, and expanded access of Pakistani products to global markets.
A New Era
In 2017, the USDA’s FSN and TAMU’s Center for Educational Technologies undertook the rigorous task of debranding and rebuilding the online plant health modules and building a new learning platform to host the updated modules. To house this content for the global community, the team built SPSCourses.com to host all learning modules and educational training materials.
In 2018, all 14 modules focused on plant health were made available to the international community. They effectively teach how to incorporate and use science-based risk analysis concepts and tools in analyzing, establishing quarantine and controlling pest diseases in a country. In Spring 2021, two additional modules covering the topics of food safety and animal health were made available to learners. These modules explore the essential components for modernizing one’s food safety system and seek to increase understanding of animal health disease surveillance and emergency response measures that could lead to compliance with internationally accepted and science-based food safety standards.
Since the modules were released globally in 2018, over 3,300 users have created accounts within SPSCourses.com and there have been 3,186 modules completed as of the end of March 2022. To date, learners are accessing the SPS learning modules from 144 countries around the world.
Looking to the Future
Today, SPSCourses.com serves as the central hub for all learning modules and content developed as part of the SPS Distance Learning Program. This powerful suite of on-demand courses and resources seeks to strengthen the knowledge of regulators in foreign countries on SPS interventions and address food safety, animal health and plant health issues in agricultural value chains.
With each quarter, the number of users on SPSCourses.com continues to grow as more countries and groups across the globe seek out this content and seek to boost their knowledge on these topics in our efforts to combat poverty, malnutrition and hunger. With the increased visibility of the program has come new requests for the original materials to be translated into new languages. Since their origin, content has been translated across five different languages, with the hope that more translations will be available in the future. Ensuring a secure food supply is a top priority of countries around the globe and educating learners in SPS topics is one more step forward to achieving that goal.
Be sure to check out SPSCourses.com yourself and see what has been developed over the past 10 years! Visit http://www.spscourses.com today to sign up for a free account and access these modules and so much more!