Tomatoes to guinea pig for new food safety program

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Europe is now aiming to strengthen Ethiopia’s standard production capacity to boost the country’s fruit and vegetable export to European countries. Currently, Ethiopia has organised a steering committee to assess the food safety of tomatoes. This fruit has been selected as a bench mark in the initial stages of implementing food safety standards.
EDES, which is a food safety programme funded by the European Union (EU) and managed by COLEACP (Europe-Africa-Caribbean-Pacific Liaison Committee) in collaboration with a consortium of European organisations specialising in food safety, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ethiopian Horticulture Producers and Exporters Association (EHPEA) to implement and support the new food safety program. After that occurred, stakeholders who met at the introductory workshop agreed to develop a tomato self-assessment guide (SAG).
The CODEX National Committee, which was replaced by the Standard Agency, was picked to assume the role of a steering committee with the overall responsibility of guiding the strategic development of the SAG.
Respectively, EHPEA was given a mandate for technically coordinating development of the tomato SAG in Ethiopia through a firm selected by EDES. EHPEA is to discharge its responsibility through the consorted support of a technical working group formed of experts pulled from relevant institutions. The group will look and follow the executions by the firm assigned by EDES to undertake the work.
SAG is a set of measures to be applied by the operator to ensure that at every stage of the value chain; production, harvesting, transport, packaging, processing and distribution; the product meets regulatory as well as market food safety quality and traceability requirements for the tomato sub-sector.
Currently through the financial support of EDES, the local fruit and vegetable consultancy firm Akirma Agri Service PLC has won the bid to undertake a one year SAG on tomatoes with major production areas in for regions.
According to Yelak Negash, general manager of Akirma, the one year assessment will take place in Oromia, Amhara, Tigrai and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Regional States.
He stated that the assessment will help the country to identify the areas that need to be addressed to improve the safety of tomatoes. On the SAG several stakeholders including; governmental bodies, private companies, exporters, growers, farmers and others will be included. “We will evaluate all the value chains to identify the food hygiene challenges,” the general manager added.
Yelak told Capital that after the assessment of the consultancy firm, which advice to agri business owners from the production to export, the assessment will provide input for policy makers in the country to implement food safety procedures in all sectors.
Currently the government has formed a technical working group that includes seven members including the private sector and horticulture association and other relevant government bodies like the Ministry of Agriculture, Drug Administration and Control Authority and Ethiopian Horticulture Development Agency to evaluate the recommendations on the assessment, while the food safety issue will follow the Standard Agency.
According to the information Capital obtained, a steering committee that is under Standard Agency, which is responsible for controlling the standard, will approve the SAG and recommendations that have to be made to improve food safety.
The main objective of EDES is to secure the flow of food products of animal and plant origin towards the EU or between ACP regions and internationally by strengthening the standard.
Ethiopia has been looking to enjoy larger exports of fruits and vegetables into the European market with the support of the EDES food safety program. 
Several events to help the country establish a food safety system to international standards have been held in Ethiopia with the support of the EDES Program in recent years.
EDES was commenced in 2009 in the African-Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to ensure safe food exports to Europe.
The EDES program which supports ACP countries was developed to adequately meet the changing food safety requirement standards within the EU.
Currently Ethiopia is exporting coffee, fruit and vegetables, but the country’s export of vegetables and fruit has not surpassed two percent in relation to the total amount exported from the stated regions (ACP). According to 2012 data, Ethiopia has exported 20, 000 tons of tomatoes and earned USD 7.58 million. From the total export volume 95 percent is exported to Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan and south Sudan, and the balance goes to the Middle East. Ethiopia does not have any tomato export to Europe. “If problems can be identified, the country will easily entertain other big markets like Europe,” Yelak said.  
Based on the new EU program, countries have been expected to meet the request for the program by following EU food safety requirement standards.
EDES will give technical support and share its governing system through its local experts to support the country’s expansion of its export market share in the EU. Akirma is currently giving technical consultancy for several growers in the country from production to facilitating the market to attract global buyers.