The proposed Action Plan to boost export of farm products appears to be no more than a routine exercise as it tends to see high yield as the main factor for increasing exports. What actually is equally, if nor more, important beside productivity and diversification of farm products is the crucial need to make them compliant with the various sanitary, phytosanitary as well as other technical standard requirements of importing countries. For long, meeting the compliance needs of target markets has been a problem for export of Bangladesh's farm produce -- mostly vegetables -- up to the potential. However, since the volume of export was small, export did not figure as too strong a deterrent. But in the recent years, compliance protocol has become truly concerning, rendering exports almost impossible unless shipments are in absolute conformity with quality and a variety of other compliance norms which vary from country to country. So, when it comes to increasing export of farm produce, one of the most important aspects is to ensure that the items do conform to respective country-specific standards and compliance norms.
It is pertinent to note that compliance does not mean quality alone, but the processes involved in production and the pre-shipment testing protocols that must be in keeping with the importing country's mandatory requirements. It is here that laboratory test takes the key role in compliance assessment. At the moment, there are testing labs in the country but lack of coordination and poor or deficient compliance of quality and technical standards set out by importing countries have resulted in a sense of uncertainty as to the acceptance of their certification in the overseas markets. Equipping the labs with modern technology and skilled manpower is thus central to substantially increasing farm product export. The number of labs that are able to do the job with proper international accreditation are only a few and hence they are not in a position to meet the requirements of a cross-section of products. In this context obtaining accreditation for increased number of local labs should be a priority for the authorities. Accreditation will also ease testing of exportable food products-both primary and processed-prior to shipment.
Accreditation is an international practice in which certification of competency, authority or credibility is presented. Organisations that issue credentials or certify third parties are themselves formally accredited by accreditation bodies. The testing labs accredited to do the job are thus entrusted to ensure compliance with established technical requirements involving physical, chemical, forensic, quality and security standards.
Now that the relevant authorities are reportedly working on the Action Plan to boost export of farm products, they must also consider adequate lab testing facilities as a prerequisite. In fact, it is the opinion of sector insiders that had there been proper testing facilities in the country, export of farm produce and products, particularly vegetables, would have already marked a considerable rise not only in traditional markets but in new markets as well.