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Agricultural Certifications: Safeguarding the Nation's Food Quality
First introduced to the island in 1986, the concept of organic farming soon took hold and the Agricultural Production and Certification Act was ratified on January 29, 2007. Today, the nation is equipped with eleven fully operational agricultural certification organizations.
Prior to the Agricultural Production and Certification Act, the Agency of Agriculture and Forestry of COA was responsible for overseeing all verification efforts in the field of organic agriculture. With the aid of National Chung Hsing University (NCHU), the Agency also conducted educational training for farmers in the production areas organic.
The university subsequently created an agricultural certification center in 2008 in attempt to better combine its educational and technical resources related to farming. Renamed as the Agricultural Products Approval and Certification Center (APACC) in 2011, the center became recognized by the Ministry of Education (MOE) as an established institution under NCHU's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The APACC is currently responsible for processing applications on quality and distribution in the domestic organic farming industry, enjoying over 200 clients nationwide.
In its beginning years, the APACC also worked with the Chinese Fertilizer Association on a program subsidized by the Agriculture and Food Agency. Aimed at cultivating experts in verifying agricultural traceability, the two-year training curriculum consisted of an education in agricultural production methods, certification management, horticultural and floricultural species as well as in-depth knowledge on the different types of soils, fertilizers, disease infections, pests and weeds. The program, which combined classroom instructions with internships and hands-on field experience, also touched upon the handling of audit materials, the utilization of the Internet and the proper usage of fertilizers and pesticides. Having successfully coached over 500 experts, the APACC continues to host agricultural seminars today, partnering with various agencies to offer advanced courses on subjects related the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
The Traceability of the Nation's Agricultural Produce
One of the most reliable agricultural certifications issued by the government is farm product traceability. In order to qualify for this particular certification, the producer must first abide by Taiwan Good Agricultural Practice (TGAP) production standards, carefully document all information on the imports and exports of related raw materials and the end product, and then make certain records available to the public through digitalization and the Web. The main obstacle faced by the Council of Agriculture (COA) in its current endeavors, however, is the farming community's doubts concerning the time and costs required by the certification process.
Citing the APACC's procedures, the COA explained that the process starts with a phone call to confirm the applicant's submission, followed up by a visit to the farmland to explain the full course of action and fees required to attain the certification status. Time is also needed for the agency to verify the full package of submitted materials and records and to conduct on-site visits and inquiries. Only after securing proof on the separate storage of pesticides and fertilizers, authenticating the purchase receipts, documenting the quality of water used in the production process, completing environmental hazard tests and sampling the end product, will the APACC finally give its stamp of approval.
Time needed by the center to process the application is dependent upon whether the date of submission is close to the harvesting season of the applicant's selected produce. The average application process is completed within two months , whereas the APACC stipulates a maximum of six months for the completion of each application.
Application fees, which may vary for each applicant, are charged based upon the amount needed for document authentication, on-site inspections, product sampling and other verification measures. Each national certification center will take into consideration operation costs and quality of service before quoting a price for its certification. The COA noted that the benefits of acquiring the certification outweigh the nominal application fees, pointing to the likely increase in brand equity and consumer confidence. Therefore, the COA concluded, individual payment systems based on the needs of each national certification center will not only better serve regional clients, but also help promote the practice of agricultural verification on a national level.
(Photos provided by the Agricultural Products Approval and Certification Center under National Chung Hsing University)