Ensuring Zambian honey complies with international food safety requirements
The International Trade Centre (ITC) and the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) are partnering to help Zambian honey producers comply with international food safety requirements, which would improve their export prospects.
Many Zambian firms, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), lack adequate skills in quality and food safety management. This in turn limits their ability to export, as international buyers, motivated by consumer concerns, increasingly require potential suppliers to have comprehensive food safety systems in place.
One such system is Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), a management system for the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards from the raw material procurement and handling stage through to the manufacturing, distribution and consumption of the final product.
Last month, ITC facilitated training activities aimed at helping small and medium-sized Zambian honey producers clear food safety-related hurdles to export markets. These activities built on work since December 2014 by ten local food safety experts to assist local honey producers while being trained on the job by ITC.
The recent round of capacity building kicked off in Lusaka from 4-8 May, with representatives from 12 honey producers were trained on HACCP implementation and compliance with basic hygiene requirements. The workshops focused on understanding HACCP-related technical and documentation requirements, with an eye towards achieving certification that would ease access to foreign markets. The ten food safety experts participated in the workshops, while receiving additional training on how to train others on food safety practices.
The training work was followed from 9-15 May by visits to the enterprises concerned to take stock of current practices. The factory visits revealed that advisory services from the local food safety experts had helped many of the companies improve their facilities and operations to comply with hygiene requirements.
Both the food safety experts and representatives of the honey producers spoke highly of the technical support they were receiving.
Doreen Sitali, one of the local food experts, said “I really learnt a lot of new skills that I wasn’t aware of, and this will clearly help me assist the companies better.”
Edgar Phiri of Mpongwe Honey Products, one of the beneficiary companies, said that almost all potential international customers ask him if his company is HACCP certified. “When you say no, they begin to think twice, and we have to go through a lot of tests to prove that our honey is safe.”
“This support will open up new markets for us,” Phiri said. “Challenges related to acquiring the equipment needed to comply with the HACCP requirements remain, but we are very motivated to move ahead.”
The food safety training was part of a broader regional project, funded by the Government of Finland, that covers marketing and branding as well as trade information. Project work on improving food safety compliance will now continue through early 2016, when the honey producers will be audited for HACCP certification.
After the end of the project, the local food experts will offer their services to Zambian companies and the wider food processing sector.
Albert Halwampa, an export development manager at the Zambia Development Agency, emphasized the need for this type of support beyond the current honey sector support programme. He invited the local food experts to keep in regular contact. He also indicated that his agency, which was set up in 2006 to promote private sector-led growth and development through trade and investment, would be keen to support such initiatives, so that their benefits would persist after the end of the project.