International food trade has existed for centuries and with time the trade has grown exponentially. Today, the quantity and variety of food that travels the globe is like never before. To ensure the safety, quality and fairness of the international food trade, Codex Alimentarius was established by FAO and WHO. The Codex Alimentarius, or “Food Code” is a collection of standards, guidelines and codes of practice adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission to protect consumer health and promote fair practices in food trade.
Since its establishment and the holding of its maiden meeting in 1963, there has been a search for worldwide consensus and greater acceptability of Codex Standards. The attainment of this requires the involvement of all the members of Codex and the active participation of developing countries like The Gambia. Participation of members is ensured through several tools and applications that have been developed and implemented over the years.
In 2011, the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) Secretariat developed a platform where members can submit comments online on draft documents. The Online Commenting System (OCS) is a system for defined stakeholders to insert, share, and submit comments on documents. In 2014, because of the rapid evolution of online technologies and issues with the system’s compatibility, performance and user-friendliness, the IPPC Secretariat joined the Codex Alimentarius Secretariat to procure an off-the-shelf product meeting user needs. The tool is also used by Secretariats to compile comments easily and efficiently and to provide data for analysis.
Codex also utilises the Electronic Working Group (EWG) platform to perform ongoing work in Codex Committees. Through the OCS, Codex Contact Points can submit comments on draft documents, with the support of the OCS Deputy and Reviewers. Codex Observers such as the Ecowas Commission are also able to provide comments on draft documents using a user license based on their availability.
It is against this backdrop that the FAO provided financial support to convene a regional training on EWG and OCS. The training aimed to enhance the capacities of stakeholders/experts on the use and application of the EWG Platform. The objective of the training was to enhance the skills and knowledge of stakeholders and experts in the Ecowas region on the use and application of the EWG platform and OCS. The three-day virtual workshop was held from 12 to 15 October 2021. The EWG Platform session was held within the first two days with the participation of all the trainees while the OCS session was held on the third day, was attended by the Codex Contact Points.
To ease logistical constraints and ensure effective participation in the workshop, FAO Gambia funded the three-day convergence for the Gambian participants at the Annex Conference Hall. The workshop was attended by six (6) experts from different specialized working groups under the Gambia’s National Codex Committee. The training covered online commenting, online registration and working on the Electronic Working Group.
The training is expected to improve the skills and knowledge of stakeholders on the use of the EWG platform as well as enhance knowledge of the CCPs on the use of OCS enhanced. The trained experts will conduct step-down training for the rest of the members in the expert working groups.