I’ve recently come back from 10 days in West Bank and Gaza, doing some training for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO -http://www.fao.org/home/en/) on risk ranking and prioritization to help the authorities there make food safety management decisions (and eating some great food, pictures as eaten!).
While there is much to be done in building (or re-building) infrastructure, instead of throwing their arms in the air and citing the political situation or shouting ‘too hard’, ‘we need resources’ etc., the teams of officials involved really engaged in the workshops, focusing on the decisions and actions they could take given the knowledge and experience they had. These were professionals who obviously knew the microbiological and chemical hazards that are important in their locality; most also picked up the logic and application of risk-based approaches quickly.
It was a privilege to be amongst such keen participants, who welcomed me warmly and seemed to appreciate what I was bringing. Many of the participants spend time in the ‘silos’ of their individual ministries – you can’t do that if you want a farm-to-fork and risk-based food safety management system. So the major achievement from my perspective was not just exposing them to tools to rank and prioritize the major risks, but having the different ministries working together, arguing loudly (why does Arabic sound louder?) and coming to consensus decisions about food safety risks. This is a lesson that applies everywhere. Get the important stakeholders at the table, with the right intentions, whenever you want to make progress on something. Whether it is plain old food safety management or even a regional peace process.