Improving the GMS Agri-Food System – the Role of Traceability


Mr Patrik Jonasson, Director, Public Policy Asia-Pacific, GS1, speaks on traceability systems during 
the Siem Reap Policy Forum in Siem Reap, Cambodia, on 6 September 2017.

A robust traceability system for product-identification in supply chains and data-sharing among trading partners is the foundation for transparency and access to international supply chains and markets, including those in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), says Mr Patrik Jonasson, Director, Public Policy Asia-Pacific, GS1.

Mr Jonasson was part of the FIA delegation involved in the Second GMS Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting (GMS AMM-2) in September in Siem Reap, Cambodia. FIA and representatives from its member companies Nestlé, Cargill, Waters Corporation and GS1, engaged in multi-stakeholder dialogue with representatives from regional governments and development organisations, which focused on strengthening food safety systems in the GMS.

Representing standards organisation GS1, Mr Jonasson led the proposal to pilot GS1 barcode-based systems for facilitation and monitoring of cross-border trade, as well as the establishment of Government-to-Government (G2G), Business-to-Government (B2G), and Government-to-Business (G2B) data-sharing.

Food Industry Asia (FIA): What are the opportunities and challenges in the development of robust traceability systems across the GMS markets?

Patrik Jonasson (PJ): In many developing countries, the fragmentation of supply chains creates significant challenges to achieving traceability. Furthermore, the food industry is increasingly facing demands from consumers for more comprehensive information on food safety, food quality, and product origin, so as to make more informed food-buying decisions. Traceability can provide a well-needed component by adding an element of transparency and trust to food supply chains.

In the GMS markets, you will find a different technical maturity, or lack of maturity. Most growers and producers in GMS countries are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Thus, they are very sensitive to cost. Each company will need to base its traceability system on a careful balance between costs, benefits and risks. It will need to do so by taking its role in the wider supply chain context into account, since the needs of direct customers, end-customers and, possibly, regulations, will be an important consideration.

In order to achieve traceability, food systems need to record every step of the chain. However, with the increase in extended, complex and highly globalised supply chains, tracking and tracing food products from end to end has become more difficult. Full-chain traceability can be achieved successfully if it is built upon global, interoperable standards that can act as the foundation for clear understandable exchanges of information for everyone involved.

FIA: How can the piloting of GS1 barcode-based systems strengthen food safety systems?

PJ: In order to develop the capacity of growers, manufacturers, distributors and Government in the GMS agri-food supply chain, there is a need to strengthen local knowledge and adoption of traceability for agri-food products traded domestically and cross-border. Capacity-building and pilot projects can be used to build up readiness among local industry players, with the end goal of strengthening regional agri-food supply chains, with the added transparency traceability brings.

It is vital to have the support from key government agencies that are stakeholders in the supply chain, such as ministries of agriculture, but also inspection agencies at the border. If these agencies would allow the business-to-government (B2G) sharing of traceability data and certificates related to the shipments, we could have significantly improved GMS food supply chains, in which product and data are made available to border agencies for improved safety, quality and efficiencies.

FIA: How can the public and private sectors work together to further drive food safety?

PJ: Governments investing in the capacity to apply standards has clear advantages in terms of public health, trade, market access and agricultural development. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the “trade in food and agricultural products offers a way for local farmers, processors and traders to increase their incomes and boost economic development”. A traceability system may serve as foundation for access to international supply chains; increasingly, however, it is also becoming a platform for compliance with stricter regulatory frameworks for food traded across borders.

The use of industry standards could also lead to improved supply chain outcomes for all stakeholders, such as improved product traceability and visibility across international borders; seamless sharing of regulatory documents and data accurately determining jurisdiction and risk profiles for each product; and enhanced consumer safety related to unsafe, recalled or fake products. These standards could also support interoperable traceability systems among growers and food companies – leading to strengthened exports; but also a safer domestic food system; more reliable product quality; and higher selling price and safety of the food both traded in, and exported from, the region.

Interoperability and interdependency among stakeholders is key – information needs to be shared and tools need to be able to work together. Public and private sectors should be working together and jointly analysing the challenges we face; there is a need to establish dialogue and understand the existing issues. Government needs to understand the economic drivers, investments and capacity issues within the private sector. Together, we need to take into account what already exists and build on that; if we go step by step, with the right vision, we can succeed.

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