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  • Writer's pictureKeith Phillips

Helping Small Farms Overcome Compliance Roadblocks

Farmer in a paddy rice field

How will small farms comply with increasing food safety and sustainable standards?

“Most of the world’s farms are very small. Worldwide more than 475 million farms are less than 2 hectares in size and more than 410 million farms are less than 1 hectare in size.
The most comprehensive possible estimate of farmland distribution worldwide suggests that: 84 percent of the farms are smaller than 2 hectares and they operate about 12 percent of the farmland.
Logo for FAO
Conversely, 16 percent of the world’s farms are larger than 2 hectares and they represent 88 percent of the world’s farmland".*

Consumers, particularly in the high consumption markets of the west, are demanding more and more assurance of the safety and sustainability of the food they eat.

The compliance and certification market is booming.

In fact, to get a Kiwifruit from New Zealand to a retail chain in Europe could require up to 10 different compliance certificates.

Retailers, consumer groups, and government regulators are all requiring standards for export. The cost of meeting these standards is mostly passed down to the farms, who have to understand their compliance needs, and spend costly time going through the certification process of answering questions, and supplying evidence.

If the trend to increasing compliance complexity and cost continues, the small farmer segment of the market will shrink, leaving a wake of labour and societal issues. At the same time the consumers' demanding these standards will find that food sources from this vital sector will decline, and potentially collapse.

How do we improve standards without forcing farms out of the market?

The answer doers not lie in lowering standards of food safety and sustainability, but in using technology to optimise compliance processes.

There are 5.15 billion unique mobile phone users in the world today, according to the latest data from GSMA Intelligence. The total number of unique mobile users around the world grew by 121 million in the past 12 months. Statistica reports that there are 14 million mobile devices if you include PC’s, tablets and similar.

The usage of smartphones varies by country with income and internet availability, but emerging economies still have a high penetration rate (with the exception of Africa).

Map of the world showing smartphone ownership

There is no doubt that as the prices of basic smartphones decline and their values increase as educational, information and trading devices, the mobile penetration of farmers will increase to the extent that they will be a viable strategy for reaching and assisting that market.

How technology can reduce the cost of certification

Mobile networks and smart technology can break through the roadblocks of compliance and certification.

1. Education:

Internet networks can provide self-help systems enabling farmers to understand what they need to do to comply, and what evidence they should have ready.

2. Pre Assessment/Audit Ready:

Having self-assessment checklists with digital advice and guidance will help the farmer identify a gap-analysis. This could be done with an online advisor who would have visibility of the farm through image capture or by using features like Facetime or Zoom. This could avoid costly or difficult travel.

3. Transparency:

Greater assurance and confidence can be delivered through the use of video and images of what is actually happening on the farm; A visual connection between supplier and consumer.

4. Multischeme:

Smart software can enable different schemes to be conducted at the same time. Questions need only be asked once, evidence provided once, and multiple schemes can be populated.

5. A Growth Path:

Continuous improvement can be facilitated; for example where a farmer can migrate from LocalG.A.P. to GLOBALG.A.P., and track improvements, and requirements.

6. Cluster Strategies:

Because everyone can be connected, it is possible to take advantage of group schemes, where farmers work together, sharing the compliance cost, and providing transparency across the group. And because you can harvest data across the cluster, understanding how you can improve the whole cluster with solutions and training programs, enables improvement across the group.

We are already using these networks across other industries such as small business and tourism; in these areas we are moving beyond compliance, and into capacity building, and continuous improvement.

We know that - with the right deployment strategies - you can reach communities who could otherwise not be reached, and make a sizeable impact.

Producer carrying plants

Technology is opening up new ways to reduce the cost of compliance whilst increasing confidence in the integrity of supply. Data harvested is already being used to provide intelligence on how to improve whole communities of farmers, giving them greater participation in the commercial markets.

*Paper produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) United Nations:


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