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Food safety forum set up amid COVID-19

Sok Chan / Khmer Times Share:
Dim Theng, deputy director-general of Consumer Protection Competition at the Fraud Repression Directorate-General (centre), led a food safety forum called “Challenges and Coping Strategies for Food Enterprises in the Time of COVID-19.” KT/Siv Channa

The Mekong Institute together with the Consumer Protection Competition, Fraud Repression Directorate-General (CCF) and the Cambodia Food Manufacturers Association (CFMA) jointly organised a food safety forum called “Challenges and Coping Strategies for Food Enterprises in the Time of COVID-19”, in Phnom Penh.

The forum served as a venue for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to share the issues and challenges they face and discuss possible adaptive strategies for a response to, and recovery from, the pandemic, said Director of Agricultural Development and Commer-​cialisation (ADC) at the Department of Mekong Institute Maria Theresa S. Medialdia.

She said that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in immediate, serious, and worldwide human health issues. While the Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam governments have tried to control the virus, it is still causing economic shocks and affecting the functioning of food supply chains.

“The combination of food safety challenges faced by Cambodian SMEs alongside COVID-19 restrictions has driven up food prices as the pandemic makes it harder for food producers to reach markets and obtain production inputs,” she added.

SMEs are the backbone of the Cambodian economy. While the industry has the potential to contribute significantly to economic development in Cambodia, it is facing several constraints and weaknesses, including the lack of processing facilities, food processing technology and skills, market analysis
and market information, poor infrastructure, unreliable supply of raw materials, as well as food safety-related and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) certification issues.

Moreover, manufacturing SMEs in Cambodia are facing increasing international competition because of globalisation and they need to attain international food safety standards to survive. COVID-19 is likely to disturb the supply of agro-food products to markets and consumers, both within and across borders.

Cambodia Food Manufac-​turing Association President Meav Soktry agreed that there has been an ongoing impact of COVID-19 to the Kingdom’s economy as well as to the food supply chain in particular because some food manufacturers are facing a lack of raw materials to produce finished products.

“We can see that a lot of restaurants and hotels have been severely affected and the food manufacturers sector has also been affected. But it also gives some opportunities for those who produce
some products that use local materials such as fish or soy sauces: They still have orders and demand,” he added.

SMEs are strongly affected by the virus and therefore food manufacturers should revisit their sourcing strategies, rationalise their product ranges and assess the resilience of their supply chains as well as their route-to-market channels. Ecommerce opportunities need to be tapped and distribution networks should be optimised and streamlined.

Lee Chang Hoon, managing director of Hyundai Agro Cambodia, said that at present, Hyundai is trying to export Cambodian fresh fruit including mangoes, lemongrass, bananas and banana leaves to the South Korean market. “We are also trying to export dried mango, dried pineapple and fish sauce to South Korea,” he added.

“The challenges for local SMEs is that a lot of companies do not have a global standard certification such as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) to certify their products are
safe to eat because now buyers require this kind of this certification,” Chang Hoon said.

Dim Theng, deputy director-general of consumer protection competition in the CCF, said that everyone is aware of the effect of COVID-19, which severely hurt the global and Cambodian economies because travelling has been cut. Therefore, it affects the food supply chain from production to processing and retail as well as creating barriers in the market.

“The CCF has contributed implementation of some key activities to boost food safety and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have also cracked down on some activities by shop owners to increase prices, sell fake products, offering fake quality and using chemicals in food,” Theng added.

“I believe this workshop provides an opportunity for the Cambodia food safety stakeholder network to exchange experiences and learn from each other, particularly regarding the challenges being faced amid COVID-19,” he added.

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