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Ministry of Agriculture, international partners launch food safety project to increase agricultural exports

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Posted: Friday, February 26, 2021. 7:59 am CST.

By BBN Staff: If Belize is to improve its agriculture-based export earnings, then it must improve its food safety standards to meet international requirements.

To that end, on Thursday, February 25, 2021, the Ministry of Agriculture and its international partners launched a pilot project valued at just under USD$1 million aimed at improving Belize’s food safety system.

Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise, Jose Abelardo Mai, said at the official launching that the project named “Piloting the use of Third-Party Assurance (TPA) Programmes in Central America (Belize and Honduras) to Improve Food Safety Outcomes for Public Health and Trade” will benefit the poultry, beans and coconut sectors.

This pilot project is part of an international two-continents approach to improve the level of food safety programs in Belize and Honduras in Central America and Mali, Senegal, and Uganda in West Africa.

“Belize is an agriculture-based economy and as we strive towards securing a diversified and vibrant food supply, it is almost always with the intended purpose to grow domestic production outwardly towards an export frontier, a frontier [that] once crossed is defined and subject to a multitude of strict market requirements. Not surprisingly global supply chains have become increasingly interlocked [leading] to a further tightening of safety and security requirements in food supply chains,” Mai said.

The Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) is funding the programme which, according to the Ministry of Agriculture “has a value of USD $619,916; the in-kind contribution for both Belize and Honduras totals USD $322,696 summing up to a total value of US$942,612.”  The project will be implemented by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA).

Joining the launch virtually from Costa Rica, IICA representative, Dr. Gabriel Rodriguez Marques, said, “The objective of this pilot project seeks to drive up compliance with national food safety standards and regulations [for] better targeting of official resources to facilitate improved public health outcomes and trade opportunities. As you know, food business operators have the primary role and responsibility of managing the food safety of their products and for complying with regulatory requirements.”

Rodriguez Marques said the benefits Belize should derive from the project include the delivery of more resources to areas of need, more efficient use of limited resources, greater opportunities for market access, an enhanced collaboration of competent authorities involved in the national food control system, opportunities for the public and private sectors, modernization of the food control management system and other opportunities for technical cooperation.

Mai said a national coordinating committee comprising of representatives of different departments, agencies, and beneficiary sectors, has been duly constituted. At the national level, IICA is working in partnership with the National Coordinating Committee, comprising of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise, the Belize Agricultural Health Authority, the Belize Bureau of Standards, the Pesticides Control Board, the Directorate General for Foreign Trade, the Belize Trade and Investment Development Service, and the beneficiary sectors.

“Our purpose today addresses one such element in trade in the form of third-party certification for which most of our exports are subject to,” Mai said. “Most buyers demand that our products not only be certified by competent authorities, but also by third party. These requirements are to ensure food safety and quality, particularly in the food industry. The compliance process is extremely costly and in almost all cases is dependent on foreign consultancies.”

Francisco Gutierrez, Acting Managing Director of Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) said  the project officially started on October 12, 2020 and will end on October 11, 2023.

“In July of 2017, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is one of the International standard-setting bodies in sanitary and phytosanitary measures, decided to take forward new work to develop guidance on regulatory approaches to voluntary third-party assurance programs in food safety and fair practices in the food trade,” Gutierrez said.

According to Gutierrez, industrialized countries like Mexico, Belgium, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom have used data from third-party assurance programs to improve their food control systems. Since this approach is not widely used in developing countries, pilot programs are being instituted in West Africa and Central America with the intended goal that these countries elevate their game.

The Ministry of Health said: “The Government understands the need for institutional building and is committed to ensuring that the delivery of services of key trade facilitating institutions like the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) and the Belize Business Bureau (BBS) adequately meet the needs of the private sector. However, meaningful institutional strengthening can only be done with the support and collaboration of the private sector, as they are the ones engaged in trade and commerce.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise reaffirms its commitment to the goals of improving safety and quality of our industries for all Belizeans.”

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