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It starts with a standard – but UNECE’s work on agriculture and food does not stop there

Over the past years, UNECE’s work in agriculture has expanded from the development of quality/marketing standards to helping governments adopt and implement them and reaching out to traders, producers and farmers.

Indeed, “It starts with a standard but it cannot end there” has become one of the guiding principle of our work. This has not only resulted in an average 50% increase of participants in meetings and workshops, but more importantly, has led to the recognition of the importance of quality by all parties in the agricultural supply chain. Last week’s Farmers’ Market organized as part of the UNECE’s 70th anniversary was a celebration of quality production of food worldwide, and showed the practical impact of UNECE standards. The hundreds of visitors tasted nuts, fresh and dried fruit and got a glimpse of the various initiatives and projects that support countries, traders and farmers in this endeavour. Quality throughout the supply chain – from farmers to supermarkets - is very closely monitored at all stages in many countries of our region with the application of UNECE standard being at the heart of these efforts. In many other regions, pests, diseases, logistics and procedural issues, as well as intensive export production make it more difficult for the local population to access quality produce and safe food. Many smaller producers including women farmers can be limited by the size of their production volumes, which in turn reduces their competitiveness and their possibilities to sustain continuous dedication to food quality and safety.

Quality is a balancing act and requires time and effort to get it right. UNECE’s member countries have set numerous examples and UNECE has created a wealth of international instruments over the years that are today more valuable than ever and in greater demand. In the past 6 months alone, requests for assistance and cooperation in projects and trainings have increased manifold from within and beyond the UNECE region. Cross-regional cooperation supported through UN Development Account funds is stronger than ever with Asian and African countries, specifically, looking for practical examples and guidance to increase their own sustainable quality production and trade. UNECE’s support for projects in the region, which is often the result of multi-year donor programmes, has increased as well and covers today fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and dried fruit, meat and seed potatoes.

In parallel, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have given new impetus to a variety of issues: produce quality and its link to food security; the connection between sustainable quality production and sustainable consumption patterns; tracing food and improving inspection procedures to ensure the high quality of products and avoid fraud and unsafe food; as well as greener, innovative production patterns - for example in the meat industry.

Moreover, targeted, gender-responsive and inclusive SDG actions require cooperation between the public and the private sectors in innovative partnerships in the agricultural sector as well as alliances between regional and international organizations. Many of these issues are now part of UNECE’s work on agricultural quality and include for example the reduction of food losses; improved traceability and less fraud via electronic means; faster inspection processes and increased research efforts for a more carbon-efficient meat production.

This week’s inter-regional meeting on fresh produce (Geneva, 2-5 May) will drive these efforts even further. It will feature the first findings of a report on food losses in Kenya’s export oriented production sector; ground-breaking discussions on new quality classes to improve access to international supply chains while improving local quality; as well as a decision on the development of electronic documents to improve the exchange, speed and reliability of inspection data in international trade. All these new areas of work are enshrined in our guiding principle: it starts with a standard but it cannot end there.

For further information, please contact: Liliana Annovazzi-Jakab at liliana.annovazzi-jakab@unece.org