The Importance of Good Agricultural Practices and Good Wages
By Dani Nichols
What are Good Agricultural Practices?
Upon its creation, agriculture triggered a change in human society, and today it is vital to modern-day human existence. Over thousands of years, humans have evolved from nomadic societies dependent on hunting and gathering, to small farms, to complex civilizations dependent on grocery stores. We no longer spend a large portion of our lives searching for food. Today, most of us grab fruits and vegetables from our counters and refrigerators to snack on or cook into a meal. In most cases we know that those products came from a grocery store or farmer’s market. We intently looked over the selection of fruits and vegetables available to us and chose either the biggest or most visually appealing produce to purchase and take home. While we know where we got the produce and what we plan to do with it, it is more difficult to know how the produce was grown, stored, and handled before it reached our hands.
That is why in the late 1990s, people and organizations alike began demanding producers to be subjected to third-party food safety audits, after an increase in fresh produce consumption in recent decades led to an increase in foodborne illness outbreaks associated with fresh produce. The demands from schools, grocers, and wholesalers resulted in the creation of the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) Audit Verification Program. The program, which was developed by the U.S. The Department of Agriculture (USDA), alongside other inspection and standardization agencies, created production, handling, packaging, and storage standards for fruits and vegetables. The standards, which are placed on producers, packers, and distributors, aim to reduce the risk of microbial food safety hazards and other harmful materials that contaminate agricultural products.
Agricultural contaminants include equipment, water, soil, humans, and animals. All of these
things have the potential to contaminate produce at any point along the production chain. GAPs cover farm operation and production practices until field packing. GAPs and GHPs verification is based on recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA), however, has international GAP certification. Voluntarily pursuing GAP and GHP certifications not only help consumers know that their food was produced following safety procedures, but also help producers expand their market-base by being able to supply food to schools, grocers, wholesalers, and other groups that require third-party audits.
Growers who voluntarily go through the GAP auditing process and receive GAP certification are able to be more competitive in the industry. Once certified, growers are put into an online database that can be searched by product and location, which may result in increased exposure and new customers. Obtaining a GAP certification and following GAP standards can help growers streamline production processes and also help produce produce of higher quality. Another benefit of being GAP certified is the fact that many produce buyers will only do business with GAP certified growers, and the food safety procedures put in place by GAP may soon become law, ultimately giving GAP certified growers a leg-up in the coming years over non-GAP certified producers. In order to fully understand GAPs and their importance in both the U.S. and worldwide, we must first take a look at agriculture and agricultural practices around the world.
Agriculture - A closer Look
National Geographic describes agriculture as “the art and science of cultivating the soil, growing crops, and raising livestock,” and includes the human use and distribution of plant and animal products. Agriculture is a cultural phenomenon with no singular origin, that has evolved and diversified throughout time and geographical location. Humans first transitioned from hunting and gathering to agriculture between 15,000 and 10,000 BC. Farming practices began to form independently in geographic locations across the world at this time, ahd while there is no one definite factor or cause that led to the global change, various contributing factors have been researched..
Humans in large part were able to begin cultivating crops between 15,000 and 10,000 BC because temperatures had risen after the last ice-age and reinvigorated ecosystems around the world. Another factor that influenced the transition to agriculture was the pressure being placed on natural resources by humans and the need to find a solution to that problem. During this time, humans gradually learned how to grow cereal and root crops in places such as Syria. Other early domesticated plants include corn and rice, the latter of which was cultivated in China as early as 7,500 BC. Squash and corn-like plants were being cultivated in Mexico as long ago as 8,000 BC.
After the discovery of agriculture, humans were able to produce surplus food for the first time in the history of our existence. Surplus food provided many benefits; food could be traded for other goods and gave formally nomadic civilizations a safety net when crops failed. This level of food security led to population growth and the creation of new civilizations that then became linked by trade. Cites centered around intensive agriculture began to form in places such as Mesopotamia, or present day Iraq and Iran. Fire and the invention of new tools made from bone, wood, and bronze, slowly helped progress the efficiency and growth of agriculture, and therefore human civilization.
Agricultural development was slow for thousands of years, but by 2000 years ago, most of the world’s population had become dependent on agriculture. With agriculture and the ability to cultivate crops and animals on demand, the global human population skyrocketed from roughly five million people 10,000 years ago to more than seven billion people today. With such a large population, it is no surprise that agricultural practices vary around the world. Climate, terrain, available technology, and tradition all influence agricultural practices today. Some farmers use ancient techniques to plant, water, and harvest their crops, such as the farmers in coastal West Africa. These farmers plant staple crops such as peas and root vegetables in between their rows of corn and rely on rainfall in order to have a healthy crop. Planting in this way increases the land’s productivity and biodiversity, which helps the soil stay healthy for longer.
In contrast, other farmers take advantage of modern technology and chemicals that are available to them, such as farmers in the Corn Belt of the United States. Farms in this region are significantly larger than the average farms in other parts of the world. Planting corn using a machine makes the process easier on large farms. However, most U.S. farms only grow one type of crop, which makes them more susceptible to disease and unhealthy soil. In an attempt to still have a healthy crop, singular-crop farms often follow-up the planting process by injecting chemicals into the soil to fight off bugs and disease. The farming practices observed in coastal West Africa are vastly different from those seen in the mid-western United States. However, producers in both regions have the potential to be GAP certified.
What do GAPs have to do with Avocado Leaf Tea?
While GAP certification ensures a product was grown and handled safely, it does reflect the conditions and circumstances under which the workers who provided these practices work. Agriculture is a worldwide industry – and its workers are often exploited. Avocado Leaf Tea Co.’s picking company is GAP certified, and in addition to producing high-standard products, Avocado Leaf Tea Co. separates itselves from other companies in various ways. Not only are the avocado leaves that create tea grown in a way that aims to prevent hazardous contaminants, but the company also stands out in the way pickers are compensated.
More than 1.4 billion people in the world live in extreme poverty, and farm workers make up a large percentage of that number. Around 90 percent of countries around the world have statutory minimum wages, however, many of these minimum wages are not enforced, and those that are often fail to provide for workers’ basic needs and fall below the World Bank poverty line.
It is important that we as consumers do not overlook the importance of fair wages when considering GAPs and that we support businesses who do pay fair wages. Tea workers around the world are often forced to meet high quotas while receiving low wages. The average tea picker in Malawi and Indonesia makes roughly two dollars a day. Tea workers in India experience various labor issues including child and forced labor and gender discrimination. Many of these issues are the direct result of centuries of colonialism and repression in these countries, however, unfair wages for agricultural workers is a constant worldwide.
In 2015, California residents whose primary source of income came from agricultural work, earned on average $17,500. This number is less than sixty percent the average income of California workers in non-agricultural industries. Many farmworkers in California are paid an hourly rate that is usually the minimum wage ($13/hr for businesses with fewer than 25 employees) or slightly above. This may seem like a reasonable wage, but when the cost of living in California and the fact that many agricultural workers do not work year-round is taken into account, the gap between the average California farm worker and other workers in different industries becomes obvious. Based out of Temecula, California, Avocado Leaf Tea Co. strives to pay its tea pickers fair wages by paying an hourly wage of $23. While Avocado Leaf Tea Co. is proud to be GAP certified and pay its pickers high wages, the discussion of the importance of Good Agricultural Practices and fair wages is one that needs to be had worldwide.
Good Agricultural Practices benefit both producers and consumers. GAP certification can increase exposure and bring new customers to producers. Humans have come a long way from our days as hunters and gatherers to searching for specific labels on foods in the grocery store. However, even with modern technology, enormous farms, and chemicals, the human role in producing and providing food to others is still critical to the process. Not only do we as consumers want to know our food (or drinks) were grown following safety standards, but we also want to know that the people who are responsible for growing and picking these things are compensated fairly.