THE ROLE OF STANDARDS IN PROMOTING SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE, FOOD SECURITY AND TRADE IN AFRICA
AUTHOR: JULIUS P. KESSY
COURSE: DOCTOR OF MEDICINE
INSTITUTION: MUHIMBILI UNIVERSITY OF HEALTH AND ALLIED SCIENCES
LOCATION: DAR ES SALAAM – TANZANIA
TELEPHONE NUMBER: +255753846174
POSTAL ADDRESS: 4875 DAR ES SALAAM
“Standards awakening Africa; A sleeping agricultural giant”
An approach to 2015 alerts Africa in accomplishing the promises set in delivery of Millennium Development Goals and prioritizing “standards” preliminary to the hunger target is undeniable towards hastening its achievement. Standards are “gauges” for precisely measuring and improving the quality of life to bring conformity with accepted criterion. ISO regards standard as a document that provides requirements, specifications, guidelines or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose. These are laid right at the basic stage of production to the marketing stage for end consumer satisfaction and comforting human rights in all sectors. Agriculture isn’t exception as standards anchor in farmers to sustainably utilize a healthy and productive land without compromising future generations.
Africa is undoubtedly a sleeping agricultural giant endowed with ample land, water resources and possessing a comparative advantage of producing both food and export crops unfortunately Africa’s agriculture has always been uncertain famines being documented from pre-colonial times till today without forgetting the images of dead cows and dried up crops. Its international trade environment is more receptive for agricultural exports though faces standards related price swings in marketing arena following aggressive competition from highly standard commodities of her western counterparts.
As standards intervene isn’t optional to this point, the overarching concern of this paper is to address the contribution of standards from pre-plantation to the post-harvesting and bioprocessing activities beyond the farm gate.
Nowadays imported seeds are liable to germination problems, pests and diseases attacks. Furthermore artificial fertilizer is another field of challenge recruiting standards attention. Their detrimental effects disturbing standardized soil chemistry are attributed to our inability to align with issues relating to prescribed standards and conformity assessment as Africa’s greatest barrier to expand its agriculture and generate more produce to sustain domestic trade. Improper standards guiding fast action e.g. of nitrogen based fertilizers has increased soil salinity in some areas resulting into crop burns rendering low yields. Such poor standards adherence in lowering high chemical concentrations of these fertilizers kills beneficial soil microbes which mineralize and compete for nutrients to sustain crop diversity and productivity to feed the starving population. E.g. a fertilizer bag might display an N-P-K ratio of 21-3-20 meaning little granules inside contain 21% Nitrogen, 3% Phosphorus and 20% Potassium but 21%+3%+20%=44%, where is 56%? These are chemical additives and industrial wastes that standards need to minimize into permissible levels. Predominantly synthetic fertilizers replenish big three nutrients awhile depleting essential nutrients and minerals for soil and crop health resulting to increased crop susceptibility to pests and diseases. These call dynamism in standards regarding crop protection products as climate change is evidenced to favour pest populations posing a threat to their control. Additionally their incredible ability of mutating to more resistant species requires stricter standards as varieties of pesticide formulations emerge.
Traditional farming practices e.g. crop rotation utilize nature where leguminous crops fix nitrogen into usable forms for non-leguminous ones such practices require a standards accompaniment regarding crop protection products as substandard ones choke nature’s pathway to produce nitrogen which partly is natural nitrogen fertilizer in soil resulting in stunted growth and lower crop yields to meet food demands. Some pesticide residues are persistent soil contaminants with more toxic breakdown products percolating ecosystems to plants and animals making our agricultural exports vulnerable to stricter food safety and health standards than corresponding international standards as in European Union and United States markets. There standards regulate maximum residue limits for pesticides and veterinary drugs in crop and animal products to fairly compete foreign capabilities.
The world isn’t static as now battling for food security gets furthered to agricultural biotechnology which needs experts with depth of studies in standards related fields as this technology inserts genes in plants creating crops humankind want. The microbes in soil act as natural pesticides but their toxin-producing genes are now genetically engineered in crops whose widespread growing encourages pests’ resistance putting crops at risk. The fate of such technology is what we witness now tinned foods containing transplanted pig genes raising hot debates on religious grounds and in this case food safety standards should speculate beyond labels for ethical protection of human rights. Africa should also think of genetic contamination by seeds and cross pollination to pure crops of the same species as it might be impossible to fully clean up our continent from self-propagating genetic pollution which probably could outlast the effects of global warming and nuclear wastes. This technology seeks national standard bodies’ attention and it is a snare to Africa’s agriculture
Standards extend into safeguarding farmers against under-weighting, counterfeit repackaging of fertilizers and assuring a genuine product as standard bodies undertake quality control inspections in manufacturing process against substandard raw materials, poor product mixing and chemical additives in factories, open market checks on misbranded, misleading or absent labels, standards mark, expiry dates, poor quality bags and storage facilities. The exemplary implementation of standards is a 2012 country-wide campaign by YARA Tanzania Limited in collaboration with Tanzania Fertilizer Regulatory Authority against traders engaging in counterfeiting YARA fertilizer by reusing bags bearing YARA trade mark where 88 bags of fake repackaged fertilizer were caught. This pictures a tireless work of Tanzania Bureau of Standards and its 2014 revised standards TZS 159:2006, Fertilizer-method of sampling reveals commitment to promote agriculture for food security that sights beyond surplus into safe nutritious food to maintain a healthy life. To that juncture standards advocate problems of food safety in relation to health from locally processed food, fermented food products to industrial produced food using specific microbiological Standards and to check the spread of food-borne related illnesses they supervise hygiene in food production and sale areas. The implementation of ARS 582:1989(E) standard; information on packaged labels covering requirements for the labeling of prepackaged products with constant nominal content being; the name and place of business of the manufacturer, distributor, packer, retailer or importer and the net quantity of the product has ensured consumer health through conformity to indicated packaged labels also facilitating African trade by reducing rejections, and lengthy border quality control procedures.
Standards inspect agricultural machines and perhaps it’s the reason for ARSO to think of mechanical standards making sure they suit agro-climatic and soil conditions with excellent fuel efficiency, high performance and durability for modern farming practices as for irrigation equipment. Standards also observe maximum microbial levels in pre-harvest crop contact irrigation by scanning their Colony Forming Units (CFU) per milliliter in monitoring irrigation water quality.
Today everything is automatically operated. In some important sectors including agriculture automation is partially adopted. Standards supervise more agricultural innovations like installing weather automation systems in greenhouses for monitoring temperature, humidity, soil moisture and sunlight from natural environment to achieve maximum crop growth and yields. Flexibility in electronics standards improves changes in software making these systems economical, portable with low greenhouse maintenance.
As openers to corridors of food security standards influence proper connective logistics from surplus to marketing areas. They also maintain high quality telecommunications for market data dissemination on perishable products allowing a fair market supply-demand comparison so that Africa can feed itself and be the world’s marketing ground. Save Africa save the world.