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This week, Declan Graham, from Project Alba partner New Zealand Plant and Food Research guest blogs for us to talk about the work we’re doing together to improve the quality of vegetables in Cambodia.

“Cambodia Quality Horticulture” is a New Zealand Government funded supply chain and food safety initiative run in collaboration with selected Cambodian enterprises including Project Alba, as well as the Cambodian General Directorate of Agriculture. The programme supports the production of safe vegetables in Cambodia and is designed to help satisfy the increasing demand for high quality locally produced safe produce. CQH is focussed on training agronomists and other supply chain participants in GAP(Good Agricultural Practice) aligned production and safe post harvest practices. The components of the project include:

  1. Sustainable vegetable production - using protocols based around soil type and careful monitoring of water and fertiliser requirements for greater productivity, plus training on safe use of agrichemicals and the use of integrated pest management practices for better pest and disease control.
  2. Improved post harvest systems to significantly increase the quality of local produce reaching the market - implementation of basic postharvest handling principles and the introduction of a cool chain concept using inexpensive equipment and facilities.
  3. Quality assurance – introducing verifiable safe food production systems that strengthen the connection and trust between producers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers.

The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research (PFR) are delivering the programme – with a team covering entomology, plant pathology, agronomy, food safety, postharvest systems and quality assurance / GAP.

Checking pesticide use

One of the first activities the project undertook was benchmarking of pesticide residues in vegetables and a weekly pathogen and parasite sampling programme. The 2017 pesticide residue programme involved taking a total of 105 samples from a number of sources including farms, wet markets, shops and supermarkets. . Samples were deep frozen and sent to New Zealand to be analysed by AsureQuality, a New Zealand Government owned food safety verification agency – with ISO 17025 accreditation. The use of accredited laboratories is a critical requirement for this testing. The CQH project will repeat this study in 2018 to verify results and the residue compliance of CQH recommended spray schedules. An important focus of the project going forward is training in the safe use, storage and disposal of agricultural chemicals – up to the standard of Good Agricultural Practice compliance.

Understanding water and vegetable issues

In addition, CQH is undertaking a programme of pathogen and parasite sampling of vegetables and the water used for irrigation and washing. The work is aimed at understanding the potential sources of contamination so that farmers understand the issues associated with inappropriate post-harvest practices such as washing vegetables in contaminated water and grading and sorting on the ground. CQH is working with partners to introduce safe food practices that lower the risk of contamination. As an example, the project has recently completed the development of a prototype washing system for use at vegetable “collection points” and small wholesale /retail facilities. The efficacy of the washing system is being assessed by doing before and after washing analysis of vegetables. Both the Pasteur Institute and the Royal University of Agriculture are involved in this project. In addition, CQH is trialling a relatively inexpensive “Coolbot” cooling system as a potential method for enhancing the postharvest storage life and quality of vegetables.

What’s next

It is envisaged that CQH project activities, will eventually result in a verified system that enables partners such as Project Alba - and their wholesale / retail customers, to provide consumers with a new level of assurance that vegetables have been safely grown and carefully handled throughout the supply chain.

Declan Graham, Project Manager, New Zealand Plant and Food Research
If you are interested in partnering with Project Alba or hearing more about our current work email us michelle.lowery@project-alba.com
, 02nd March 2018