Certification of the production process has become an essential practice in today’s market.  Farm produce which has been certified sells at a higher price in the market. Consumers are willing to pay more for being grown with fewer pesticides, better working conditions and pay for farmers.  Certification can be defined as a process which sets benchmarks for production.  If the product is seen to meet the benchmarks, certification is given.
Whilst certification presents a way businesses can improve their supply chains as well as profits, it is equally important to recognize its importance to small and medium sized farmers. Arshad Mahmood owns a small orchard in Sarghoda, Pakistan. Until recently, the income from his 4 acre orchard amounted to USD800 – which was too little to improve the quality of his citrus fruit.  Since 2012, he has become a beneficiary of the project entitled “Support to small farmers’ through improving their citrus orchards” being implemented by Coca Cola Foundation in partnership with International Relief and Development (IRD).  
The project has helped small farmers improve farming practices for certifications of their produce. It provides support to small farmers’ in Sargodha, Pakistan for obtaining Global GAP certification through improving their citrus orchards. The Global GAP is a certification which looks into the supply chain of the produce from the time the seed is sown to being sold to the consumer.  It provides a globally accepted certification for ‘Good Agricultural Practice’ for food safety, sustainable production methods, worker and animal welfare, responsible use of water, compound feed and plant propagation materials.   Certification from Global GAP standardizes produce and helps exporters from different countries to sell their fruits and vegetables at a higher price.
The aim of the project is to enhance skills of citrus producing small farmers and introduce better practices which bring an improvement in their productivity whilst also meeting international quality standards.  Arshad has been able to employ better farming practices to attain certification for his orchard. “Through the project interventions, I was able to apply optimum fertilizer to my trees for the first time in my life”, declares Arshad. “The project also helped me (learn to) prune my trees to remove dead woods which spoil the fruit quality. Coca-Cola-IRD also trained me in pesticides spraying techniques and time of application for insecticide as well as fungicides”.

Working toward certification for the ‘Kinnow’ citrus fruit

The Kinnow is a large mandarin variety of Citrus fruit is one such fruit. The soil and climatic conditions in Pakistan have given ‘Kinnow’ a unique flavor which distinguishes it from other mandarins grown elsewhere.  The potential exists for it to be exported as a valued exotic fruit – but the variable quality and sanitary standards as well an insufficient shelf life are all issues which limit it.
Although horticulture is a major activity in Pakistan, it is still considered as a minor crop, and thus does not receive the required support for export. Issues in increasing exports include the use of low quality seeds and the wrong varieties, improper packaging and inadequate transportation which lead to spoilage, and an inefficient marketing system.  Approximately 30 to 40% of the perishable produce gets spoiled before reaching the ultimate consumer.

Placing emphasis on capacity building and raising awareness for sustainability

The project has worked on building the capacity of small to medium citrus farmers in diversified agricultural production through training workshops specific to citrus fruits. This included insect and disease management, irrigation requirements and nutrition management.
Often it has been seen that farmers tend to spray too many pesticides in order to manage pests. This not only has an impact on the health of the farmers but it can also be taken up into the waxy peel of the fruit. Resistant strains also develop and the problem of pests persists. Improved pest management practice resulted in the use of unadulterated pesticides in the correct quantities, as well as clearly researched modes of spraying for better pest control.
The increased awareness has lead to the early observation of fungus outbreaks and better management when compared to the non project beneficiaries.  Scab disease, a common fungus which is responsible for blemishes in the Kinnow, had been controlled in the project orchard and showed lower levels of occurrence as compared to the presence in 100% of the non project orchards.
A hazardous practice which had been observed is the reuse of the empty pesticides’ containers in domestic use. This practice has been discontinued through raising awareness and training related to proper disposal. Such practices not only have a positive impact on the workers but also have an impact on their families.
Global GAP certification required documentation of all of chemical inputs and awareness given to permanent and contracted workers.  Each beneficiary farmer is required to maintain a daily record for the activities and observations taken place during the day. This has led to better management and can also point out any issues which come up in orchard management.    “We are satisfied with new interventions”, relays a beneficiary farmer.  “Now we are doing agriculture practices in an appropriate manner and systematically with timely planning and implementation. The only workload increased is the pruning of trees once a year but it is our belief that we shall get more yield than previous years.”

Improvement in crop leads to the reversal of the ban

The project orchards provide Kinnows to the Mateela Packaging factory. Prior to intervention, the project orchards were selling Kinnows at USD0.6 per kg, primarily due to the blemishes present in the fruit. GlobalGAP certification is expected to bring in better prices immediately.
The factory now caters to project orchards and requirements of GlobalGAP certification.   In late 2013, the factory was visited by a delegation from Russia and following the visit, Russia lifted its ban on imports. In the course of the project, a number of improvements were observed.  Although it is too early to bring about an increase the amounts of fruit cultivated, there has been an improvement in the quality. Previously income from fruits had fluctuated but as the quality of fruit improves through better farming practices, it is expected farmers income will not only increase but become stable. The benefits of the project will have spillover effects in the entire community as more workers are employed due to increased income levels.