In 1997, as a reaction to the growing concerns of consumers, British food retailers working with supermarkets in continental Europe decided to harmonize their different standards and procedures on product safety, environment, and labor. This initiative, called Global GAP (good agricultural practices), developed “good practices” in conventional agriculture, which highlighted the importance of integrated crop management and a responsible approach to worker welfare.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, GAP are “practices that address environmental, economic, and social sustainability for on-farm processes, and result in safe and quality food and nonfood agricultural products.”
The idea of Global GAP certification attracted more and more producers and retailers around the world as global trading emerged. This is recognized internationally and has been in place for many years, particularly for vegetable and fruit crops. GAP for rice, however, is still in its infancy.
Raising the bar
Although appropriate adoption and monitoring of GAP will help improve the safety and quality of food and other agricultural products, there are some challenges, especially for small-scale farmers. These farmers are highly at risk of not meeting export standards, unless they are sufficiently informed and organized by their government and other public agencies.
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), through the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC), strives to give small-scale rice farmers a chance to join export markets by providing them with best rice-growing practices to be able to pass GAP standards.
A knowledge bank for rice GAP
To capture all the best rice-growing practices for lowland irrigated rice, the IRRC has developed a GAP Web site that can be accessed via IRRI’s Rice Knowledge Bank. The site provides practical solutions to help rice farmers boost yields, improve grain quality and production efficiency, and adopt more environmentally sustainable practices.
The Web site synthesizes decades of collaborative research and development from IRRI and its many partners on best management practices for irrigated rice, and it will continue to incorporate new knowledge in the future.
Filling in the gap
This April, the IRRC is funding an international symposium in Bangkok, Thailand, on GAP for rice in Southeast Asia to enable countries to share their experiences in establishing and promoting rice GAP. One outcome of the meeting will be the development of a rice GAP network for Southeast Asia.
Through the IRRC, IRRI is paving the way for small-scale rice farmers to benefit from best management practices that will ensure them of higher profits and healthier harvests. The adoption of GAP will enable them to develop market opportunities for higher quality rice both domestically and internationally, and help fill in the gap between them and wealthier farmers.