AFRICA – Experts have underscored the need to reinforce Africa’s food safety especially through food control systems, if any progress is to be seen in the continent.
This was during a regional virtual event to mark World Food Safety Day, co-organized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Office for Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa, and with the World Food Programme and the Coordinating Committee for Africa (CCAfrica) established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
Every year about 600 million people fall sick from foodborne diseases, and this burden of illness falls disproportionately on the poor and the young, according to FAO.
“In fact, 34% of deaths from food-borne illnesses affect children under 5 years of age. Economic impacts are also stark. According to the World Bank, in 2016 poor food safety cost the global economy USD 110 billion in lost productivity and medical treatment,” it noted.
In her remarks at the event, Dr Adelheid Onyango from the WHO, said food safety is a fundamental element of food health and an essential part of development.
“There is a list of challenges confronting those working for safer food in Africa, including a lack of updated data to guide policies, a weak regulatory environment, and limited capacity of small businesses to adhere to measures for safe handling of food,” she said.
The session looked at a range of solutions to strengthen national food control systems, including for the formal and informal sectors.
According to the Regional Officers, Governments need to foster multisectoral collaboration and joint efforts between human health, animal health, agriculture and other sectors to support policy measures and legal frameworks to strengthen national food control systems.
“Food businesses need to promote a food safety culture; Educational institutions need to support food safety education; Consumers need to be informed and practice safe food handling at home,” they said.
Various initiatives supporting food safety
As stated by Ade Freeman, FAO Regional Programme Lead, opportunities for progress lie in Africa’s expanding food markets, and in the application of technology and innovation to the food sector.
Simone Moraes Raszi from WHO gave a briefing on the WHO Global Strategy for Food Safety, which aims to build evidence-based, people-centred, and cost-effective food safety systems.
Meanwhile, Blaise Ouattara, FAO Regional Food Safety and Quality Officer, detailed the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-2031 and how it supports food safety. The Strategic Framework has four pillars: Better Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment and a Better Life, he said, and Better Nutrition includes a goal of ensuring safe food for everyone.
Dr Simplice Nouala Fonkou from the African Union Commission told attendees that he expects the proposed African Food Safety Agency to be established by the end of next year.
He said the African Union’s new Food Safety Strategy for Africa 2022-2036, launched earlier this month, will guide African countries to invest in food safety.
The Strategy was developed by New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Union, in consultation with the private sector.
He concluded that the agencies at the session were aligned in their strategic approaches to Africa’s food safety, and that continued coordination, and leveraging of comparative advantages, is needed for amplified impact.