A multiplicity of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) codes, standards and regulations have been developed in recent years by the food industry and producers organizations but also governments and NGOs, aiming to codify agricultural practices at farm level for a range of commodities. Their purpose varies from fulfilment of trade and government regulatory requirements (in particular with regard to food safety and quality), to more specific requirements of specialty or niche markets.
Good Agricultural Practices are "practices that address environmental, economic and social sustainability for on-farm processes, and result in safe and quality food and non-food agricultural products" (FAO COAG 2003 GAP paper)
These four 'pillars' of GAP (economic viability, environmental sustainability, social acceptability and food safety and quality) are included in most private and public sector standards, but the scope which they actually cover varies widely.
The concept of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) has evolved in recent years in the context of a rapidly changing and globalizing food economy and as a result of the concerns and commitments of a wide range of stakeholders about food production and security, food safety and quality, and the environmental sustainability of agriculture. GAP applies recommendations and available knowledge to addressing environmental, economic and social sustainability for on-farm production and post-production processes resulting in safe and healthy food and non-food agricultural products. A broadly accepted approach using GAP principles, generic indicators and practices will help guide debate on national policies and actions and on the preparation of strategies to ensure that all stakeholders participate in and benefit from the application of GAP in the food chain. The implementation of GAP should therefore contribute to Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD).
- Ensuring safety and quality of produce in the food chain
- Capturing new market advantages by modifying supply chain governance
- Improving natural resources use, workers health and working conditions, Creating new market opportunities for farmers and exporters in developing countries.
Key Elements of GAP
- Prevention of problems before they occur
- Risk assessments
- Commitment to food safety at all levels
- Communication throughout the production chain
- Mandatory employee education program at the operational level
- Field and equipment sanitation
- Integrated pest management
- Oversight and enforcement
- Verification through independent, third-party audits
Potential benefits and challenges related to Good Agricultural Practices
Potential benefits of GAP
- Appropriate adoption and monitoring of GAP helps improve the safety and quality of food and other agricultural products.
- It may help reduce the risk of non-compliance with national and international regulations, standards and guidelines (in particular of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the International Plant Protection Convention IPPC regarding permitted pesticides, maximum levels of contaminants (including pesticides, veterinary drugs, radionuclide and mycotoxins) in food and non-food agricultural products, as well as other chemical, microbiological and physical contamination hazards.
- Adoption of GAP helps promotes sustainable agriculture and contributes to meeting national and international environment and social development objectives.
Challenges related to GAP
- In some cases GAP implementation and especially record keeping and certification will increase production costs. In this respect, lack of harmonization between existing GAP-related schemes and availability of affordable certification systems has often led to increased confusion and certification costs for farmers and exporters.
- Standards of GAP can be used to serve competing interests of specific stakeholders in agri-food supply chains by modifying supplier-buyer relations.
- There is a high risk that small scale farmers will not be able to seize export market opportunities unless they are adequately informed, technically prepared and organised to meet this new challenge with governments and public agencies playing a facilitating role.
- Compliance with GAP standards does not always foster all the environmental and social benefits, which are claimed.
- Awareness rising is needed of 'win-win' practices which lead to improvements in terms of yield and production efficiencies as well as environment and health and safety of workers. One such approach is Integrated Production and Pest Management (IPPM).