In an Interview for Veggies from Mexico, Flor Mejía, leader of regulatory compliance at Agrícola Belher, shares with us what it has been like for her to work in the fresh produce industry, we invite you to read this interesting interview:
1. Could you tell us a little about your professional experience?
I finished college in 2014. And my first job was in an farming company as a food safety supervisor. Learning about this industry; supporting and directing supervisors in field and packing, assisting in external audits, updating documentary manuals, and following up on corrective actions.
In 2017 I joined Agrícola Belher, starting as responsible for the supply of drinking and purified water in CDC’S (community development centers) and production units; within months I obtained the position of coordinator of the purifying water plant, then I was promoted to responsible for it. In time my activities diversified, and I was no longer only responsible for the purification plant. I climbed up a step as coordinator of the field safety supervisors and participated in hygiene issues in the CDC’s (community development centers) in integrated pest management and was responsible for the water purification system of the shelters.
By 2021 to date, I was promoted to regulatory compliance leader, leaving some of the activities I was performing until then, going back to my beginnings in accompanying audits and following up on corrective actions; without leaving aside the responsibility of the purification plant, training, and entering into new topics compared to what I was doing; as it was on compliance topics (agreements, laws, regulations, standards, etc.), environmental monitoring plan (planning and scheduling of sampling, filing, validating them, etc.).
This is a broad outline of my work experience.
2. How long have you been working in Agrícola Belher and what do you consider have been the main challenges you have faced?
More than 5 years working on the farm. And the main challenges that I experienced, in the beginning, were to raise the awareness of the collaborators in my charge, to change the mindset, and to move towards a food safety culture. Adhering to the rules and regulations that govern us in our work areas. But it has also been my greatest satisfaction to see that the little seed we have sown has borne fruit with the change of attitude, adopting, and incorporating good practices in a natural and daily way.
3. What are your functions as the leader of regulatory compliance and internal audit?
I am mainly in charge of the environmental monitoring plan, regulatory compliance table, consultant visits (CESAVESIN), purification plant, and internal audits.
-Elaborate and implement the environmental monitoring plan: file, capture laboratory results, and elaborate validations.
-Maintain updated the matrix of normative regulations (Mexican official standards, laws, regulations, guidelines, and international labor requirements) to which we are subject in each of the processes for compliance with regulatory requirements in agriculture.
-Ensure the operation of the purification plant and the supply of purified water to the different areas of the company (CDC’S and production units).
– Implement the training program of the area in charge and support areas.
Lead visits of consultants or internal audits, follow up on non-conformities or recommendations, and channel them to the corresponding area.
Through the SAC’S (corrective action request), file the information, keep track, verify, and validate corrective and preventive actions.
4. How important is the internal audit program in Agrícola Belher and how does it improve the food safety culture of the company?
It is essential because internal audits allow us to observe, continue and/or adjust, if necessary, any process or activity to be performed correctly. The objective is to ensure continuous compliance to achieve food safety healthy and safe food. I like to think of it as taking a snapshot of the business.
5. How important do you think it is for farm companies to have third-party audits from international organizations?
They provide security and certainty to the processes used in agricultural companies. In addition to being more competitive and offering confidence and guarantee to national and international consumers that the products were harvested, packaged, and marketed under optimum hygiene measures, of the highest quality, sustainable, and environmentally friendly.
6. How is working with the Veggies from Mexico/Eleven Rivers Growers community through the weekly audit program?
Reliability, since the weekly audits are constantly improving the performance of activities and processes in the company. Strengthening food safety and social responsibility practices.
7. Why do you consider it important to have a continuous improvement system for the company and how do you apply the Kaban methodology to follow up your activities?
Using the Kaban methodology allows us to visualize more clearly and simply the projects, activities, improvements, or processes that we need to work on or that we are working on; visualizing them through a Kaban dashboard, which allows us to analyze the progress made.
8. How important are constant training and a good relationship with the entire work team in each area of the company?
It is vital to keep up to date and keep pace with recent requirements and skills, to keep up with the changes that arise in the highly competitive world of business.
A key point for the whole machinery of the company to work properly, in a good relationship mainly of respect and teamwork to create a proper link, where it is reflected mainly in the personal satisfaction of each one as workers and this is reflected in the productivity of the company.
Because we are internal customers, we participate or are responsible for processes, not work areas (we all need everyone, in the processes of the supply chain). Since we are directed towards the same objective, to produce healthy, safe, and of the highest quality food that is or will be on the table of the final customer, the consumer. This is the greatest satisfaction.
9. What do you consider will be the main changes that the industry will undergo in the next 10 years and what impact will they have on agricultural companies?
The incorporation of technological innovation where robotics (drones and other developments) will progressively gain a prominent role in which new forms of employment and cultural change will be generated. This will probably happen in the long term since there are many economic, social, and political variables, among other aspects, to reach this point. These technologies will be implemented or adopted mainly by large entrepreneurs who can afford the investment, while small and medium-sized growers will have a late technological adoption because they cannot incorporate this technological flow in its entirety unless they have the support of the government or institutions.
10. Anything else you would like to share?
It is very rewarding to work in the fresh produce industry because we actively participate in processes that involve us directly or indirectly in one or more items of the supply chain to ensure that we produce, pack, market, and provide our customers with fresh, healthy food of the highest quality. In addition, it allows us to be in a constant learning process because nothing remains static, everything is evolving due to supply-demand.