AFRICA – For the first time, the African Union (AU) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are collaborating to develop guidelines aimed at improving food safety across Africa’s informal food sector.

This sector is vital for food security, employment, and livelihoods, particularly for the continent’s urban poor.

Africa’s informal food sector, comprising street vendors, kiosks, and traditional market sellers, provides food for approximately 70 percent of urban households.

Despite its importance, food safety in these markets has been historically neglected, leading to significant public health challenges.

An estimated 90 million Africans suffer from foodborne illnesses annually, resulting in productivity losses of around US$16 billion, while international investment in food safety projects on the continent stands at just US$55 million per year.

New guidelines to reflect African realities

The new guidelines are designed to reflect the complexities of African food systems and to improve government engagement with the informal sector. This initiative is part of a broader effort to transform food systems in alignment with the post-Malabo agenda.

“Food and nutrition security is a human right, and yet unsafe food undermines this right for millions of Africans every year,” said John Oppong-Otoo, Food Safety Officer at the African Union International Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR).

He emphasized that the guidelines would offer practical advice to help governments collaborate with the informal sector to achieve safer and more sustainable food practices.

These guidelines build on the AU’s continental-wide Food Safety Strategy for Africa, published in 2021, which aims to improve food safety management across the continent. The draft guidelines will undergo consultations with members of the informal agrifood sector and government representatives to ensure they are comprehensive and applicable.

The guidelines draw on ILRI’s extensive experience in supporting informal food markets across Africa. In East Africa, for instance, the More Milk project in Kenya has successfully trained over 200 milk vendors in Eldoret on hygiene and handling practices, ensuring safer milk products for consumers.

In Ethiopia, a consumer awareness campaign in Dire Dawa and Harar achieved a 78% recall rate, significantly driving demand for safe tomatoes. Similarly, surveys in Tanzania revealed high levels of concern about food safety among informal milk vendors, who expressed a strong desire for more training and better equipment.

In West Africa, ILRI’s initiatives have also made substantial impacts. In Burkina Faso, a “push-pull” approach that involved educating consumers and training vendors led to improved food safety standards among chicken grillers in Ouagadougou.

In Côte d’Ivoire, ongoing One Health collaborations continue to target food safety in informal markets. Nigeria has seen considerable advancements through ILRI’s partnership with 16 associations in Bodija market, where training, certification, and marketing initiatives were provided for butchers.

Remarkably, a follow-up after nine years revealed that the butchers still recalled and adhered to their training, indicating the long-lasting impact of ILRI’s efforts.

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