The fact that vegetables can quickly earn VietGAP certification and appear on supermarket shelves, as published by Tuoi Tre newspaper in the past week, shows loopholes in the management process. GAP, which stands for “Good Agricultural Practices”, is actually a real gap in management. How is this happening?
In theory, the VietGAP certification system is subject to the regulations that came out long ago. In early 2008, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) issued Decision 379/QD-BNN-KHCN on the VietGAP process. By 2017, the Ministry of Science and Technology published the National Standard TCVN 11892-1:2017 Good Agricultural Practices in Vietnam (VietGAP) compiled by the Department of Crop Production, proposed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and reviewed by the General Department of Standards, Metrology and Quality.
However, a search for information about VietGAP is hard despite a series of documents with complete regulations on the information update process and its management.
The lack of information
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced VietGAP standards in 2008 and seven years later, the total area under VietGAP vegetable cultivation was around 3,200 hectares, equivalent to 0.4% of the country’s vegetable growing area (*). By the end of 2017, there were 1,406 VietGAP-certified farming establishments with an area of more than 18,200 hectares, of which the area of VietGAP vegetables increased slightly to 3,443 hectares.
Recently, the area certified for VietGAP cultivation has increased rapidly. By the end of 2018, there were nearly 1,900 VietGAP-certified farming establishments with 81,500 hectares. According to a report published by the Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Quality Assurance Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, by mid-2022, the country had had 463,000 hectares of VietGAP certified crops and the number of units having VietGAP certification is 6,211.
However, when I looked for a detailed list of VietGAP-based growing areas, certified facilities and that of VietGAP certification organizations, I could not find them. This information cannot be found on the website of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, while the Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Quality Control Department website has only statistics mentioned above in conference documents.
The Department of Crop Production website has a VietGAP logo and a link to “vietgap.gov.vn”, but this website no longer exists. The Vietnam Internet Center states that this domain name is “reserved by the Department of Crop Production”, which means that there has never been a website with this domain name. The most relevant information about VietGAP on this website is the list of VietGAP certification organizations posted in April 2019(**).
There is another website at vietgap.com, which looks as if it belonged to an accredited organization in charge of VietGAP but it is not. This site belongs to the Food Safety Institute, established by the VinaCert Certification and Inspection Joint Stock Company. The domain name vietgap.com is owned by VinaCert.
It turns out that the vietgap.com site is also just a unit that provides VietGAP certification services. Of course, for that reason, it only contains information about the units and growing areas certified by this unit.
How can one check a VietGAP-certified growing area or facility through public portals?
Who is responsible?
Before the fraudulent practice of turning vegetables with unclear origin into VietGAP-labeled ones was discovered, the websites of two businesses providing vegetables with VietGAP stamps at supermarkets had a lot of information about the supply of VietGAP and organic vegetables.
However, neither the buyer nor the management agency of VietGAP checked whether the VietGAP information on those websites was authentic. One of these businesses even had a photo of the VietGAP certificate issued in 2011 on its website, which has expired for a long time, but no one questioned anything, especially the unit that bought “VietGAP vegetables”.
In terms of management, Circular 48/2012/TT-BNNPTNT of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development stipulates in Article 4 that the issuance of VietGAP certification codes follows the guidance of the Directorate of Fisheries, the Department of Crop Production and the Department of Livestock Production. Thus, these three units are the focal point for the management and certification of VietGAP.
With the main management already there, what about the information related to VietGAP? According to Circular 18/2019/TT-BNNPTNT, “Regulating the provision of information, updating, using and managing the national database on crop production” effective from the beginning of 2020, Clause 1, Article 14, regulates that the Department of Crop Production is defined as the unit that “presides over and guides relevant organizations and individuals to report data to summarize, update, use and manage the national database on crop production in the country”.
In the national database on cultivation, Clause 6, Article 6 contains information on VietGAP, organic production, which is updated by VietGAP certification organizations. The updated information includes name, head office address; production address; production object, area, output, type of production; and number of certification decision or certificate number.
According to Circular 18/2019, the Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Quality Management Department is responsible for updating data on the testing organization and the certifying organization that registers certified or targeted plant products.
At this point, the parties responsible for licensing VietGAP vegetables are clear.
The Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Quality Management Department is the focal point for licensing VietGAP certification organizations, while the Department of Crop Production is responsible for issuing VietGAP certificates to VietGAP fruit and vegetable growing areas and businesses.
Then, when will VietGAP’s data in the farming field be updated for people to look it up quickly? Not to mention that VietGAP’s data in the fields of livestock and aquaculture must also be made readily available.
The gap in VietGAP can only be filled by information, and with that, the new crop of vegetables disguised as VietGAP will no longer exist.