Lofty objectives

A reader emailed me recently about his fruit being rejected at the market by a department of agriculture inspector because the cartons weren’t properly marked with all the information required by law.

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 On top of that, the inspector confused oranges with lemons, which understandably had the farmer a little concerned about competency levels. The inspector was right about enforcing what information is required on the carton or label. If you look at the list of items required, it’s clear this is aimed at traceability and the export market. However, applying these requirements – as laudable as they are – to local market produce is another matter entirely.

One of the problems farmers have encountered is finding themselves sitting on stocks of pre-printed packaging material which doesn’t conform to the new labelling requirements. There was a deadline given by the department – sometime last year if I recall – for the necessary adjustments to be made.

Of course, this created more of an outcry from farmers than orders for new labels. The department backed off and gave an extension to the deadline for farmers to clear existing stocks. The other problem the department faces is the many small-scale farmers who don’t comply with the labelling requirements mainly because they can’t afford pre-printed packaging.

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The law requires a farmer and/or packhouse to register with the department and be given a Packhouse Unit Code (PUC), which is supposed to appear on every container of produce. I wonder how many farmers have registered. I also wonder how the department will enforce this regulation when it seems as if inspectors are thin on the ground.

It’s great that the department wants our farmers to comply with international standards. The problem is that we live in a developing country. On one hand, we have farmers as good as any on the planet and, on the other, we have small-scale farmers struggling to survive – never mind comply with regulations.

We also have a department of agriculture which we’re led to believe is understaffed, especially when it comes to extension and inspection services. Perhaps our government officials need to ‘go back to basics’ before going forward to loftier objectives.

Contact Mike Cordes at [email protected]. Please state ‘Market floor’ in the subject line of your email.