"My grandfather was growing produce 70 or 80 years ago," Riel Malan, a fruit farmer from South Africa, tells me. "He used to take it to the market every week and sell it there. People knew him, they trusted him; they knew where the food was coming from. But over the ensuing 50 years or so, that connection was lost. Now, we're able to bring it back with the help of technology."
Malan has joined forces with Dr Kristian Moeller, chief executive of GlobalGAP, and Freda Molamphy, technical and compliance manager at Spinneys, to unveil a new labelling system at the supermarket chain. Developed in partnership with GlobalGAP (those three initials stand for Good Agricultural Practice), which is a leading agricultural assurance organisation, the system is a revolutionary way for customers to be able to trace the source of their food, all the way back to the farm, orchard or plantation where it was grown.
The system is being trialled with fruit from a handful of small-scale farms in South Africa. All produce sourced from these GlobalGAP-approved sources will come with a special GGN label. "We want to give our customers something more than just, say, a peach," Molamphy explains. "We want to prove the quality of it, show exactly where it was grown and explain how it was sustainably produced.
"It's about trustworthiness," she adds, "because this isn't what we [Spinneys] are telling people about our products. It's all verified by an independent source, which is GlobalGAP. We're doing this trial on produce for now, but that's not to say that, in due course, we won't roll it out for meat as well. We do have full traceability for our meat products, but that's not visible through labelling yet. We have it through our auditing and other processes."
Malan says that, as a supplier, he likes the idea of full traceability because it gives him and others like him a distinct edge in offering produce that customers will keep coming back for.
It's true to say that there's a chasm that disconnects consumers from farmers, particularly for city dwellers. There's a great deal of ignorance surrounding what we feed ourselves, and that has allowed factory farming, which is almost entirely unsustainable, to thrive. The use of pesticides, growth hormones and antibiotics has become prevalent, resulting in food that's cheap to produce and cheap to buy. All the while, it's all too easy to fill our bodies with toxins that might not be present in produce from the family farms and small businesses that work with GlobalGAP.
“Many of these businesses have been run by generations of the same families,” remarks Moeller, “and it’s vital for them to be treated fairly, to allow them to prosper.
“The food they produce is both safe and sustainable, and what we’re doing now is more than window dressing. We have the systems in place to prove to consumers that these traditional, family-run farms are growing the things they’re buying.”
He says that there are moves being made, with the cooperation of farmers and growers, to reduce food waste and better manage supply chains, so they become much more efficient. “These families – who have been running their farms for decades – they do it with enormous pride and we’ve forgotten about that. They want to do the best they possibly can, and we are helping them.”
Moeller gets out his smartphone to show me how the GGN labelling system works. It's an exercise in brilliant simplicity: once you scan the QR matrix code on the product's display board, you're taken to a microsite that's unique to the farm (or group of farms) responsible for growing the very fruit you're looking at. There are links to their websites and social-media accounts. GlobalGAP has visited all these premises to confirm that these really are representative of the on-ground reality.
“Through this tech,” chips in Malan, “families like mine are able to tell their stories and show how they’ve gone about their business for many decades. You can see photos and watch videos that accurately show the reality.”
And there's even more to it than that, adds Moeller. "By linking to the growers' social-media pages, we're opening up the ability to exchange dialogue, to get conversations going with the actual people producing this beautiful food. There is
For more information, visit www.ggn.org/spinneys