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Quality checks closer to the farmer

WFP’s office in Guatemala in 2009 developed the “Blue Box”, a kit containing tools to enable instant quality control checks in the field. Two years later, these boxes are being rolled out in many countries as part of increased efforts to improve awareness about food quality.

The original Blue Box from Guatemala was designed to check and ultimately improve the quality of maize produced by local farmers’ organisations. It included a calibrated scale, a moisture meter, sieves, grain sampling equipment, an aflatoxin test kit, and power supplies. Farmers, WFP field staff and implementing partners used it to conduct basic quality testing.

The intention behind the Blue Box for WFP was to enable a screening of the food to be bought from smallholders before sending samples to the superintendent company. The Blue Box does not replace the mandatory quality check by an independent superintendent, but allows quick feedback directly to farmers and is a very handy tool when checking stored commodities or other food purchases for WFP’s operations.

Shortly after its introduction through P4P Guatemala, remarkable improvements in the quality of maize and in terms of boosting the confidence of farmers were realized:
•    The Blue Boxes and the related training on quality enabled farmers’ organisations to provide maize within acceptable ranges of aflatoxin to private sector buyers;
•    The higher quality maize improved the industry’s confidence in their produce as it proved that good quality maize can be purchased also from smallholders;
•    The possibility of testing their crops themselves increased farmers’ confidence of having a good product, thus increasing their bargaining power with traders.

The farmers quickly learned that quality equals money, and that there is a market for quality beyond WFP. As part of a comprehensive package of awareness raising and capacity building, the Blue Box is an important tool to build the capacity of farmers and show them that quality should cover the whole value chain.

The concept of the Guatemalan Blue Box has been expanded and its content adjusted to the needs of users in Africa. This expanded Blue Box (which is no longer blue, but silver as it is now made from aluminium to make it both lighter and more robust) has been designed to do quality testing of multiple grains and can be used for training of farmers in quality issues.

Eleni Pantiora from WFP’s Food Quality unit says: “Although still at the ‘spring’ of its implementation in Africa, the developing needs for quality assessment and the flexibility of the Blue Box may lead it also to other geographic regions.” So far, WFP’s office in Zimbabwe has received the Blue Box. Several offices in P4P countries have expressed their interest in this initiative such as Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and Tanzania, while Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Uganda are taking the lead in its adoption.

Improving the quality of smallholders’ produce is one of the most urgent needs to sustainably link smallholder farmers to markets.