Concern about food safety has increased dramatically in recent years. It’s estimated that one in 10 of us each year suffer from food-borne diseases resulting from either biological or chemical contamination. Despite this, less than five per cent of the world’s fresh fruit and vegetable producers are food-safe certified.

Edgar Cancax is one of the five per cent, and perhaps the first smallholder farmer in Guatemala to receive Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point system (HACCP) certification. Like any first mover, the lead farmer faced challenges along the way but was undeterred. With a clear understanding of the benefits, a vision for the future and the support of his clients, Cancax acquired his InspiraFarms Food Processing Facility and set about getting his 20-person vegetable processing operation HACCP certified.

The adoption of food safety assurance programs such as Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and HACCP is growing amongst smallholder farmers, albeit not quickly. Why?

Certification is neither quick, nor easy. While the process can last six months between trainings and the preparation required for audits, the bigger challenge lies in changing the mindset of producers and their workers. Perceived traditions and habits in relation to harvest and produce management hygiene can be ingrained. In Guatemala for instance, Edgar Cancax found it difficult to convince workers to remove jewelry while handling food. Producers on the other hand often see adequate toilet facilities and field storage for fertilizers and equipment as unnecessary investments.

Despite the perception of certification being a challenge and an expense, the opportunities that come from being able to access high-value markets are huge. Not only does certification assure a higher price per kilo, with premiums ranging from 5-10%, quality assurance ensures longer, more profitable client relationships. And, in countries such as Guatemala with markets geared toward export, fully certified farms are reaping the rewards of the move from primary production to value-added processing activities.

The process of certification is also stimulating collaboration among farmers and collectives who realise the costs of trainings and audits can be shared.

Guatemala-based producers ACODIPA and APROVESA are reaching their second and third year respectively with GAP certification. Both groups had the support of clients and stakeholders through the acquisition of InspiraFarms HACCP-ready Food Processing Facilities and the certification process. Their certified facilities have enabled the safe aggregation of produce, and both groups are now ready to move into processing.

These days, food safety pioneer Edgar Cancax is harvesting the rewards of certification, delivering more than 900 tons of certified safe broccoli, peas and baby corn each year to three clients exporting to the US and beyond. As it happens, the hassle of the high road is small when compared to the benefits.

Want to know more about the certification? We spoke to Agronomist and expert Regina Cosenza about the certification process as well as the benefits.