Las Cruces – Two New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service specialists shared their knowledge of good agricultural and manufacturing practices recently with agricultural students in the Dominican Republic.
Nancy Flores, Extension food safety specialist, and Del Jimenez, agriculture specialist, participated in the Partners of the Americas Farmer to Farmer program, which is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Farmer to Farmer brings together agricultural professionals and practitioners from the U.S. and the Caribbean, respectively. U.S. volunteers work with farmers and agribusiness owners in the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti and Nicaragua to identify local needs and design remedy projects.
Bilingual in Spanish and English, Flores and Jimenez were guest instructors at an agricultural university, the Instituto Superior de Agricultura in Santiago in October. This institution was established in the 1960s as an agricultural vocational high school and has evolved into a university through a partnership with Texas A&M University and other land-grant universities.
Flores taught the Good Manufacturing Practices guidelines, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point evaluation system, U.S. Food and Drug Administration food labeling requirements and thermal food processing procedures to 26 students. Jimenez worked with agronomy students teaching Good Agricultural Practices.
"Food processing and vegetable production are important income-generating activities in rural areas of the Dominican Republic," Flores said. "The students at ISA raise crops and animals, which are harvested and slaughtered at the school and then prepared and served to the student for a nominal fee."
Flores translated the curriculum she uses to teach New Mexico food processors the FDA Good Manufacturing Practices guidelines. These guidelines outline aspects of production and testing that can impact the quality of the food products being manufactured.
"The university has a food safety program similar to ours," Flores said. "Where I found them lacking was in funding to repair their equipment, much of which had been manufactured in Europe."
"The students were very prepared and had a solid knowledge base. I showed them how to apply that textbook knowledge to real-life situations by having them do hands-on exercises, such as doing GMP audit and an HACCP risk assessment of the school's food processing plant. During their hazard analysis, many of the students realized their facility did not have proper hand-washing stations."
Jimenez toured ISA's agricultural facilities and farms and taught the students about world agriculture, sustainable agriculture production and organic agricultural production.
During a tour of a private farm, Jimenez visited with a woman charged with supporting area vegetable producers as they work together to obtain good agricultural practices certification.
"While we were there, four employees of the Department of Agriculture were assessing how well the vegetable producers were complying with the GAP guidelines," he said. "Unfortunately, none of the projects that I saw would have passed compliance. The technicians and producers were not up to standards with GAP. I think that many of them are trying to do the best they can, but need guidance through educational programs to meet the goals."
Both Flores and Jimenez provided reports to university officials and the Farmer to Farmer program that gave an analysis of what they observed at the institution and what should be done to bring the programs up to GAP and GMP standards.
"I enjoy being a part of this type of program," Flores said of the Farmer to Farmer program. "I like learning about other countries first hand and seeing what other countries are doing to address food safety."