Good agricultural practices (GAP)
The idea of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) has come into prominence with rapid globalization of agricultural economy and food safety. Agricultural sectors are plagued by underperformance, lack of expertise technology and proper infrastructure and supply chain. Globalization has profound implications for agricultural production and post-production operations. Agricultural production systems are challenged with environmental, economic and social sustainability. The concerns for food production, food security, food safety and food quality has led to greater focus on addressing environmental, economic and social sustainability of agricultural activities.
What are Good Agricultural Practices?
Good Agricultural Practices, according to FAO COAG 2003 GAP paper, 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" To ensure safety and good quality of produce, governments, NGOs, food industry, producers organizations and farmer groups have come up with a multiplicity of regulatory codes, rules and standards. The basic scope of these standards is to achieve global economic viability, environmental sustainability, social acceptability and food safety and quality. While implementing good agricultural practices, there are specific purposes and requirements of these regulatory bodies such as ensuring safety and quality assurance of produce, creating new market opportunities, streamlining supply chain governance and improving workers health and working conditions. Some groups may try to regulate specialty or niche markets. The only suspected downside of these regulations is possible increase in production costs due to record keeping and certification process. The marginal and small scale farmers have to be supported in implementing regulations in order to make farming activity sustainable.
Benefits of good agricultural practices
Standardizing and applying these good beneficial practices are already benefiting millions of farmers in the developed countries. The benefits include:
- improved safety and quality of food and other agricultural produce,
- optimum use of all inputs,
- reduced levels of chemical, microbiological and physical contamination hazards,
- use of permitted pesticides, veterinary drugs, radionuclide and mycotoxins,
- improved yield and production efficiencies,
- facilitating establishment of agri-food supply chains,
- increase in market opportunities, especially, export markets,
- integrating production and pest management,
- increased technical expertise and knowhow and
- increased attention to the standard of living, health and safety of workers.
Implementing good agricultural practices
The first step in effectiveness of these operations is commitment and compliance by all the stakeholders. There is an increased concern for quality and safety of food products among consumers. The growers, processors and traders must address the concerns and also match the anticipated stringent market demands to survive. Many farmers in developed countries and some in developing countries are following these standards of good practices at various levels. Informal codes of good practice and indicators are developed by food processors and retailers in response to the development of food chains. The need is at least a policy on nationwide uniform standardization pertinent to safety and hygiene in the course of production, storage and transportation. The world nations must initiate a process of discussion, consultation to debate and workout modalities for achieving international standards of good agricultural practices promoting global trade of safe farm produce. An audit mechanism must be in place for ensuring quality assurance and compliance. Some of the issues of good practices having international ramifications are discussed below.Soil management related good agricultural practices
Some of the good agricultural practices relating to soil management are:
- taking measures to minimize loss of soil, nutrients and agrochemicals through excessive irrigation of agricultural fields;
- improving the soil productivity through enhancing soil organic matter and soil moisture to improve soil biological activity;
- carrying out crop rotations and manure application to increase the organic profile of the soil;
- minimizing loss of topsoil or soil cover by conservative tillage;
- avoiding excessive organic input to prevent damage to soil chemistry;
- using appropriate and approved organic and mineral fertilizers and other agro-chemicals like pesticides and
- minimizing damage to soil fauna and flora.
Some of the good agricultural practices relating to water management are:
- implementing efficient agricultural irrigation methods to avoid excessive leaching, salinization and efflux of surface waters with nutrients;
- managing water table to avoid excessive percolation or waterlogging;
- providing safe and adequate drinking water to livestock;
- wherever possible providing permanent cover as an water-saving measure and
- ensuring safe clean water for washing produce, livestock and for the use of farm workers.
Some of the good agricultural practices relating to crop production are:
- selecting cultivar and plant varieties with reference to suitability the soil conditions;
- selecting varieties which are suitable for marketing having greater consumer demands, having high productivity and profitability, agricultural sustainability and resistance to pests and diseases;
- intercropping to make maximum use of soil fertility;
- devising a cropping pattern for optimal use of energy, machinery and manual labor;
- growing non-host crops to minimize pest attacks;
- intercropping with legumes to improve the nitrogen in the soil and
- integrating livestock production to increase organic sources of manure.
Some of the good agricultural practices relating to crop protection are:
- cultivating disease and pest resistant variety of crops;
- rotating crops and fodder to minimise pest attacks;
- taking measures for biological control of pests;
- using weedicides to control nutrient loss caused by weeds and
- when agrochemicals are to be used to control pest or disease, enlisting the services of trained and knowledgeable persons.
Some of the good agricultural practices relating to animal production and animal welfare are:
- providing sufficient feed, water and space to increase productivity;
- using supplements to counter deficiencies in the nutrients;
- wherever possible providing grazing land or ranch for the animals;
- taking care to prevent contamination of water sources, feed and agricultural produce from animal wastes;
- providing shelter and maintaining required machinery;
- promptly treating diseases and pest attacks;
- meticulously following vaccination and immunization schedules;
- ensuring periodic veterinary advice to prevent diseases and health problems;
- not exceeding maximum stocking densities and
- providing maximum living space.
Good agricultural practices for harvesting, processing and storage are:
- ensuring pre-harvest intervals for pesticides and chemicals;
- ensuring withholding periods before harvest after the use of veterinary medicines;
- ensuring cleaning and washing the produce with clean water after harvesting;
- ensuring required procedures for pre-slaughter handling of animals and post-slaughter hygiene;
- storing the produce in an appropriate manner and
- transporting the produce in clean and appropriate containers.
Good agricultural practices for energy and waste management are:
- whenever possible resorting to renewable energy sources;
- periodic maintenance of machinery and equipments to ensure optimum performance;
- minimizing the creation of non recyclable waste during agricultural activities and disposing such non recyclable waste in a safe manner without damaging the environment.
Good agricultural practices are for attaining optimum balance between economic, environmental, and social goals. The ultimate goal of the agricultural activities is to ensure safe and healthy for the consumer and also adequate income and living standards for the persons involved in the food chain, right from producer to retailer. All these agricultural activities must be carried out taking utmost care to preserve the wildlife and their habitats around us.
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