FAO underscores significance of food safety in improving cross-border trade

EAST AFRICA – Representatives drawn from various sectors in East Africa have been trained on Food Safety and Coordination on Border Regulations towards improving the safe trade of agro-food commodities in the region.

The Eastern Africa (EA) Subregional Office of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Coordination Authority (NCTTCA) jointly sponsored the training workshop, to improve the ability of EA nations to adhere to food safety, animal and plant health standards, and requirements to promote safe trade.

The importance of food safety cannot be understated as unsafe food leads to food-borne illnesses, malnutrition, food losses and waste, and reduced domestic and international market access.

In Africa, over 90 million people fall ill, while nearly 137,000 die each year, due to food-borne diseases, according to FAO.

The workshop investigated the relationships between Technical and Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) barriers to trade agreements and trade facilitation.

Priya Gujadhur, Deputy Representative for FAO in Uganda, on behalf of FAO’s Subregional Coordinator for Eastern Africa, underlined the necessity for stakeholders in the agro-food value chain to achieve relevant food safety and quality requirements in order to trade regionally and internationally.

Such regulations are put in place by governments to protect the health of animals, plants, and the environment as well as to ensure that trade commodities are of the appropriate caliber.

Gujadhur further stated that food safety is at the heart of FAO’s work, supporting the achievement of Better Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment, and a Better Life, leaving no one behind.

“Food safety is a shared responsibility. There is no better time than this for the Eastern African region to harness efforts to improve food safety, promote cross-border food trade, and benefit from opportunities arising from the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). Zero hunger will not be achieved without food safety, as if it is not safe, it is not food,” she said.

On his part, the Executive Secretary of the NCTTCA, Omae Nyarandi, noted that Eastern Africa owns several Trade and Transport Corridors such as the Central and the Northern Corridors. The Corridors provide access to markets, connect countries and provide access to seaports for the landlocked countries and play a critical role in facilitating both intra-African and international trade.

“Improving food safety and our border regulations will go a long way in attracting external markets to our region and therefore ultimately determining the volumes of commodities traded between the trading partners at any given time,” Nyarandi said.

The successful implementation of AfCFTA requires addressing barriers around food safety and ensuring the agro-food commodities crossing the borders are up to the standards.

Workshop recommendations

The participants suggested that for producers, awareness campaigns and training targeting farmers on proper inputs, Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), food safety and quality management systems, regulations and procedures are beneficial.

They noted that it is crucial to group smallholder farmers into cooperatives or groups in order to make them bankable, to fund research on biological control agents, and to upgrade the infrastructure for moving goods from farms to markets.

“There is no better time than this for the Eastern African region to harness efforts to improve food safety, promote cross-border food trade, and benefit from opportunities arising from the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). Zero hunger will not be achieved without food safety, as if it is not safe, it is not food.”

Priya Gujadhur, Deputy Representative for FAO in Uganda Tweet

On the part of the suppliers, it was proposed to improve enforcement, monitoring, and surveillance capacities, strengthen food regulatory systems, harmonize product registration processes, and promote technologies for natural biological plant and animal health protection goods.

In this sense, it is crucial to assist processors by raising understanding of the laws and regulations governing food safety, states FAO.

The participants noted that it was essential to inform and engage micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in food safety measures development and capacitate them to comply. Important steps include investing in packaging supplies, supporting self-regulation of food safety, upgrading processing equipment and facilities, and boosting quality infrastructure.

On the logistics front, they agreed that it was crucial to strengthen regulatory and policy frameworks for food safety standard compliance, assist the private sector in adhering to these standards, improve security and transportation infrastructure in rural areas, set up aggregation centers, and enhance border clearance procedures.

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