Interview: Pedro Pantoja, Agroindustrias Tombell

Pedro Pantoja is currently responsible of Food Safety and Quality for Agroindustrias Tombell; Pedro has more than eleven years collaborating for this company and has been fundamental element for the achievement of agricultural certifications.

Pedro welcomes us cordially at the facilities of Agroindustrias Tombell and shares some of his experience, the challenges he has faced and his vision of agribusiness.

  1. Since when you work at Agroindustrias Tombell and how did you get to this company?

I have been working for the company for eleven years, I arrived get here for a recommendation of a friend, at that time they were requesting a safety assistant, I make the interview and the responsible asked me to be here the next day, I work two years as an auxiliary service, and at the third year I started to take responsibility of the hole food safety department.

  1. What is your position and what are your main responsibilities?

I am nine years in charge of the food safety department, at the beginning was a challenging position, however I have received various trainings that have supported me to get the job.

I have also been responsible for quality for two years, so my current position is: Food Safety and Quality Manager.

When I started in this position it was just me as field manager, I have a lot of support from the technical part from the Committee of Plant Protection of the State of Sinaloa (CESAVESIN) and my colleague Fidel Vargas the coordinator of Safety, Quality and Certifications of Agrícola Chaparral which is the sister company of Agroindustrias Tombell, at that time we did not yet have any commercial certification, I had to coordinate the first certification in 2008 and from there we renew our certifications annually.

On a regular day of my routine, I coordinate with the staff that supports me in the field and with my assistant to distribute the tasks and also we support a lot with the field workers; The reviewers and the butler, that thanks to the trainings they made our work a lot more easy, since they know the way the company works.

In the quality issue I visit all the lots, I coordinate with reviewers and I try to make follow-up visits with them during the course of the day.

  1. What are the main professional challenges you have faced?

The main challenges that I have faced are the various certifications that the company has carried out. In the first audits we had several challenges, since we had to change a part of the company’s infrastructure in order to comply with the requirements.

At the beginning of the certifications I was only me, as the responsible for the program, in 2008 I had an important challenge, due to the changes that were necessary in in the farm infraestructure and the surface that we handled, and nevertheless we managed to get ahead. From 2008 till today our infrastructure has improved considerably; in sanitary installations, dining rooms, warehouses, we can say that in a 40% the company has made improvements to the facilities. The medical unit and nursery already existed; what are new are the office, primary, secondary, purifying plant and field dining areas.

The challenge with certification audits was to comply with the requirements as a culture of the company, work with the resistance of workers to comply with the different specifications at the time of doing their job.

After the certifications the company acquires a greater formality, fortunately I could count with a great support on behalf of the manager of production and the technical equipment to be able to fulfill with all the necessary to comply with the certification, the changes necessities of infrastructure according to what establishes the criteria of the certifications. Since every year certifications have more requirements.

  1. How do you work with company partners in implementing a “food safety culture”?

At the beginning it was complex to work with farm workers, to make them recognize the importance of food safety and good agricultural practices, to enter them in the subject and that they fulfilled at all time, we had to work much this part in explaining to them and making them understand, at first they questioned us: why? for what? We were asking them to do things differently, since they did not understand the benefit or did not give it enough importance that was a big challenge to be able to create a culture of safety.

One of the things that has worked in my particular case is to give the worker confidence, explain everything in a simple way that is quick and easy to understand, I try to train everyone together: the gang of laborers, the butler and the reviewer, I explain what we need to fulfill, I ask them to ask me the questions and make all the comments they have, I have accomplish the target to interact with them in a way that they understand the importance of what we ask them to do  in a point where they are convinced why it is important to comply.

We train our personnel in all aspects of good agricultural practices, emphasizing the care of the quality of our products, hygiene, good treatment of people, prevention in case there is any person with any symptoms of Illness and we also give them first aid courses.

Most of the workers who work in our farm are migrants from other states of the Mexican Republic, our company is characterized by the permanence of workers, approximately 80 to 90% are workers who come back to work year after year, that has benefited us a lot since people already know their work, we try to have continuous training and even they easily detect in case there is something missing to do their job properly.

We try to have a preventive health culture and when they detect some sick person they channel it to the clinic that we have inside the facilities of the field.

Before starting the season we give them the necessary training in order to meet the quality requirements, even this season we include the training on the subject of organic product management, which is a topic where we are starting. Trainings are given to all workers, even if it does not refer to their specific job since everyone must know the philosophy of managing the product of the company.

At the beginning, I make more frequent inspections, I tried to check the handling of all our workers, in order to make sure that they were complying with what was necessary and, if not, I wanted to talk to them directly, explaining again in a personal way the importance of complying with what is stipulated by the certifications, the importance of hygiene in the handling of food since they are for human consumption, as time went by and we have gained more experience I have been able to delegate a little more this responsibility in the stewards since they themselves pay more attention to this kind of details, this process of adaptation has taken me approximately two seasons.

  1. How do you think it benefits the employees of the company to work with a certification program?

The main benefits are the improvements to the infrastructure, quality of life and social responsibility all in order that our workers find the optimal conditions of development during the time that they are with us, this is what has helped us our migrant farm workers return every season to work with us.

  1. Since when you participated in the implementation of the Eleven Rivers Certification Scheme?

We go for four years working with Eleven Rivers, we participated from its beginnings.

  1. Tell us about your experience in the process of implementing the Eleven Rivers Certification Scheme.

For me gave it gave me a lot of learning, since there were some issues with which I did not work directly, however, when I started with the Eleven Rivers Scheme I started to get more involved with other areas, which allowed me to acknowledge much more of the company.

It is a very extensive, very complete scheme; all the people involved we demanded ourselves the maximum in order to get the certification, I received a lot of support from the Production Manager, technical partners, social responsibility staff, and all areas of the company.

This certification is very complete because it involves all areas of the company, unlike others that place greater emphasis on food safety. We make great improvements of the quality of our processes, it makes us feel more confident in our operation and it makes it easier for us to achieve any other certification.

  1. Do you consider that being incorporated into Eleven Rivers has brought some benefit to the company and if so, what are they?

We have had improvements in all senses of our operation, being certified with Eleven Rivers gives us greater security that we are continuously complying with the quality standards throughout the operation, it helps us a lot in the process quality part since it gives us the advantage of having all the information organized and available, which supports us to be prepared for any other certification, even now that I am working with organic certification, Eleven Rivers has supported me to have the best information organized and available for any consult.

We have improved our organizational culture as we organize everything under the standards of the Eleven Rivers Certification Scheme.

It helps us a lot also in the continuing training part, since they have an annual human capital training program in which I and my technical partners participate, on very specific topics.

  1. What are the challenges agricultural activity is facing due to changes in food regulations in the United States?

I believe that the requirement of the authorities will now be a bit more rigid, they will not only serve good practices on a voluntary basis, but will have more obligatory character of compliance.

I consider that to be working with different certifications and the organization that we have will help us to be in continuous compliance.

  1. Anything else you want to add?

I would like to thank all the people who have supported me to achieve the Eleven Rivers certification. Both the managers of our company, as well as my colleagues who are part of the implementation team, as well as the team of technical advisors from Eleven Rivers who have accompanied us throughout this process.



Marzo, 2017