Since 2008, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has been directly involved in the development of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)’s Global Markets Program (GMP). The GMP was designed to provide guidance for assessment of suppliers against different levels of food safety requirements for full certification of a GFSI-recognized scheme. Accordingly, the goals of the GMP are threefold:
•    To share technical expertise in upgrading food systems of developing and emerging countries

•    To raise awareness of the specific needs and features of less-developed businesses in developing countries

•    To develop relevant internal and local expertise as well as capacity building that can be localized

To achieve these goals, UNIDO established the Sustainable Supplier Development Program (SSDP), which facilitates public-private partnerships to increase safe and sustainable sourcing between suppliers. The SSDP operates as an inclusive development scheme that integrates food safety into business objectives, such as to build local capacity and assist clusters of suppliers in less-developed markets to implement the GFSI’s GMP (training, assessments, mentoring), gain access to supply chains and profitable new market opportunities, establish long-lasting business linkages with buyers, involve government institutions, generate new jobs and income opportunities and increase the availability of sustainable and safe food. The UNIDO SSDP business model is shown in Table 1.

The SSDP Partnership
The SSDP’s public-private alliance, known as the SSDP Partnership, responds to the needs of farmers and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries and economies in transition, thus allowing them to access profitable new market opportunities by being accepted as reliable suppliers through the establishment of long-lasting associations with potential buyers, such as the METRO Group. UNIDO-METRO joint activities were guided by an “inclusiveness” principle to integrate “less-developed businesses” into “formal” trading partnerships, which in turn could positively impact the livelihood of producers, workers and their families, and increase the availability of safer, higher-quality and more affordable products for consumers. The program was conceived to be sustainably expanded to other retailers.

Pilot applications were begun in Egypt, India, Russia and Zambia, in which 140 suppliers partnered with METRO (Egypt, India and Russia) or other retailers (Zambia) for the implementation of this program.

Early Success: Malaysia
A partnership program between the government of Malaysia and AEON Group, a leading Japanese retail cooperative, and implemented by UNIDO with the financial support of the government of Japan was officially launched in Kuala Lumpur on January 15, 2013, in the presence of Malaysia’s minister of international trade and industry, the ambassador of Japan and AEON top management.

The pilot phase began in April 2013 and involved 25 SMEs. This phase included development of the GMP in manufacturing at the basic level, which consists of supplier selection, training the trainers, supplier training, supplier mentoring and supplier assessment. During this phase, 25 local suppliers were enrolled; 24 completed and 10 passed the basic level. These 10 suppliers then enrolled in the intermediate-level program, of which 8 completed the intermediate level and 4 were deemed ready for certification. Today, three suppliers started trading with AEON, five maintained trading with AEON and two of the eight that completed the intermediate level started exporting product.

This UNIDO project was ended in January 2014, by then already cooperating with 75 SMEs.  

The nationalization phase, which began in February 2015, is still ongoing.

The overall impact of this program includes the creation of structured and localized tools as well as the development of a qualified pool of trainers, mentors and assessors. Both trade and food safety performance showed improvement within the pilot programs. Additionally, a functional internship program was developed to support program expansion.

Wide Tropism Trading
Wide Tropism Trading is a Malaysian supplier of a range of food products from nuts and beans to spices and snacks. When the company first became aware of the SSDP, it was a small operating company with no professional knowledge about food safety. The SSDP gave Wide Tropism an idea of why food safety is so important. The company was being assessed at the very first stage, obtaining the lowest score among all 25 companies. After going through a year of changes, implementation and improvement, it was assessed again, ranking as the most improved company and scoring as one of the highest among all companies.

The company notes, “Of course, it was not easy at all throughout the whole transition period. We lacked personnel to prepare the paperwork and to both apply and oversee the implementation. Besides that, as we were based in a rental property, it was very difficult for us to do renovations when the process flow was not right. We did what we could to fulfill the requirements of the program, by changing the layout and performing some minor renovations. As we are a growing company, we do encounter cash-flow issues when renovating and investing in necessary equipment. We now understand how important food safety is and cannot afford to procrastinate in implementing the right procedures in handling food products.”

Another challenge for the company was the implementation of traceability. It took more than a month to devise a perfect tracing code. There was much work to be done, including changes to the label, upgrading the stock system and educating the employees, but all changes were worth it when the company was able to recognize and trace all its products on the shelves, or when it had issues and was able to resolve them.

Wide Tropism offers a “thumbs-up” to its consultant from UNIDO. “He was really helpful and patient in guiding us. We are really grateful in participating in the SSDP, as it has helped us improve our company productivity, provide more confidence to our customers and increase our sales. We approached AEON to supply them with organic products in 2013, but we were rejected as we were only a small company with no standards in production. Upon completing the Beginner Level of the SSDP (which took us around 1.5 years), AEON started business with us. Now we are also supplying to AEON MaxValue and AEON Wellness. We are impressed with the quality control and support given to suppliers and SMEs by AEON, which made sure all their suppliers met the standards, constantly improving the quality of suppliers.”

After the SSDP, Wide Tropism now has proper production flow and food safety procedures. Plans to move to new premises were made easier with the enhanced knowledge to design the layout of the new factory. Furthermore, by supplying to more outlets, the company has been approached by other business affiliates.

The company concludes with this observation: “Food safety implementation is definitely a must on the production line. ‘Small companies’ do not mean a ‘small standard.’ It merely means that you need to do it right the first time. Without the SSDP, we would not be who we are today. Thank you, AEON! Thank you, UNIDO!”

Nis Spice’s Experience
Nis Spice Manufacturing Sdn Bhd is a family-run spice company producing a wide variety of traditional Malaysian spice mixes, ground spices and ready-to-cook premixes. Before joining the SSDP, the company was already halal-certified by Jakim (SK1M) and is in the process of obtaining MeSTI certification from the Malaysian Ministry of Health, demonstrating that the company meets the objectives of the nation’s food safety program for industry. The company applied for the above-mentioned food safety assurance certificate without any assistance, instead relying on the given manual guidelines. The company’s biggest challenge was having a deeper understanding of food safety at a professional level.

The company notes, “After we were selected for the SSDP, we were very fortunate to have mentors from UNIDO and AEON to provide more in-depth knowledge and educate us on the importance of food safety. This program has given us personalized instruction, on a one-to-one basis, on such items from floor planning to documentation. The vast knowledge and guidance given was priceless. We were able to not only accomplish our MeSTI but have moved forward to Good Manufacturing Practices and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points as part of our plan going forward. With food safety certificates, we are able to export our products and increase our sales to more food industries.”

Graduate Industrial Training
Lee Jau Shya, Ph.D., associate professor and deputy dean of research and innovation, Faculty of Food Science and Nutrition at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), remarks about the university’s successes:

“Graduate unemployment has been a major challenge confronting university leaders globally. In order to sufficiently equip students with required competencies demanded by the food industry, a 6-month industrial training period is compulsory for every student who enrolls in the food science degree program at UMS. Under the SSDP, two of the third-year students gained an opportunity to be attached to AEON Co. (M) Bhd, one of the leading retailers in Malaysia, from March to August 2014.

“Under this program, students underwent a structured and comprehensive training. During their first week of training, the students were exposed to the SSDP basic-level training and on-the-job training in an AEON retail store. They attended an SSDP intermediate-level training during the second week. Subsequently, they were attached to their respective host companies (participants in the SSDP) for another 5 months. The main task of the students was to facilitate the host companies in improving the safety and quality of the products manufactured. Students helped to implement, establish, amend and monitor the food safety practices in the host company. By doing so, they were able to apply the theory and knowledge learned at the university as well as during their SSDP training to real-world practices. Their industry supervisor from AEON supported the students and served as their reference contact whenever they faced problems at the host companies. To monitor the progress of the host company and the trainees, the industry supervisor continuously monitored the structured logbook of the students and visited the site. Meanwhile, continual monitoring and assessment of student progress were also carried out by the academic supervisor (university) by checking logbooks and reports of the students, and the reports of industry supervisors in addition to visiting the site.

“Among the main learning outcomes achieved by the students in this training were improvement of the knowledge and competencies of the food safety management system, communication skills, analytical thinking and problem-solving skills. This smart collaboration between industry and university brought about increased food safety certifications among local food industries, human capital building for university students, development of food safety experts and, last but not least, increases in job opportunities.”

Malaysian Government Oversight
The Food Safety and Quality Division, Ministry of Health (MOH), is the food safety authority of Malaysia. It functions in the review and promulgation of food legislation, standards development, Codex Alimentarius and international enforcement, certification and licensing, exports, laboratory services, surveillance, training and communication. MOH is responsible for overseeing the Food Safety Assurance Program (FSAP), which mandates that a proprietor, owner or occupier of food premises involved in the manufacturing of food shall provide and make available an FSAP on the food premises.

The aim of the SSDP FSAP is to ensure that all food establishments implement an effective food safety program, including hands-on experience in developing such a system, with the goal of expanding a company’s business and increasing its marketability to retailers. The overarching goal is to achieve a sustainable and safe food supply from reliable and certified suppliers and to increase the marketability of safe food to consumers.

The Future of the SSDP
Looking ahead, UNIDO strives for recognition by food associations, like Food Industry Asia, for future implementation of the SSDP plus the GMP in other countries and new partnerships, based on this program, around the world. As the Malaysian government has nationalized the SSDP, all retailers have been invited to participate, which could bring increased confidence and sales to their organizations. The overarching goal is to continue to integrate all food industry-related activities for the betterment of food safety on a global level.