Chile’s agriculture minister Jaime Campos and economy minister Jose de Gregorio were joined by the country’s leading fresh fruit growers and exporters on September 7, to endorse the new Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) initiative.

The ministers attended the annual Fedefruta Convention, in Santiago, to give official government backing for the GAP programme, the first of its kind to be introduced on a country-wide basis. The objective of GAP is to assure the highest possible safety and environmental standards for exported Chilean fresh fruit, by reducing the dependence of the industry on traditional chemical inputs and agricultural practices.

The successful implementation of GAP, it is hoped, will allow Chile to be identified and promoted as the world’s safest and most environment-friendly produce exporter, which would give it a considerable competitive advantage in today’s environment-conscious European market.

Fedefruta president Luis Schmidt said the GAP programme had been developed by industry leaders over two years and that its management and implementation would now be given the highest priority.

“The GAP programme represents a tremendous opportunity,” he said. “We must all sign up to it as rapidly as possible because it will assist us in differentiating our fruit from that of our competitors. We are the only country in the world that is truly acting together as an industry. This will give us advantages we cannot yet possibly imagine for opening new markets and achieving better returns from the markets in which we are already established. Fedefruta is committed to having all of Chile’s growers and exporters involved in the programme.”

Ronald Bown, President of the Chilean Exporters’ Association, and recognised as a key figure in the planning and bringing to life of the GAP scheme, explained to growers the importance of the undertaking. “Good agricultural practices are central to modern agriculture because they integrate the demands of both the agricultural industry and the markets into which the products will be sold. The GAP concept involves respecting the environment, striving for the harmlessness of products to consumers and protecting workers. Both the consumers and authorities of our major export markets want their fruit to be supplied by groups that implement GAP and by ensuring this, to generate the highest confidence in Chilean fruit throughout the industry.

“Although completely voluntary in nature, once a grower signs up to the GAP programme they will be obliged to adhere to a rigorous regime of health and safety requirements, keep detailed records and allow inspectors from the Foundation for Fruit Development access to conduct a full review of their procedures and records,” added Mr Bown.

“A national GAP Board will be formed to oversee the process and strictly enforce the standards – only fully certified growers and exporters will be allowed to market their fruit as ‘GAP-approved’.”

Mr Bown will be representing the Chilean industry at both the Eurofruit Congress, in Barcelona, and the PMA Convention, in Anaheim, in October, with the specific intention of promoting the country’s progress on this front. He told the Fedefruta Convention that he expects to secure government funding for the GAP initiative by the end of the year, estimating that a minimum US$1m would be needed to create a national GAP board and to fully fund the national coverage, training and review process that the project would require. The cost, he envisaged, would be split equally between the government and the private sector.

The response to the GAP initiative has been overwhelmingly positive so far, with one industry representative saying: “At a recent regional Fedefruta meeting, billed as an explanation of the GAP effort, more than 150 growers were present. This compares with an average turnout at regional meetings of between 40 and 50.”