The African Development Bank, the silent partner driving the food safety agenda across Africa.

The Africa Food Safety Summit 2022 was held in partnership with the African Development Bank (AfDB). When you first hear of AfDB, you might wonder what’s the relation between a bank, especially one known for funding large infrastructure projects, and a Food Safety Summit. In his keynote speech, Damian Ihedioha, PhD., Agribusiness Development Division Manager at AfDB, revealed in detail why the Bank chose to be part of the summit and its role in promoting food safety across the continent.

“Our desire to participate in this Summit was predicated on the key fact that we want you to know that we are what we eat. Feeding Africa is beyond production of food but making sure that the foods guarantee good health and boost the incomes of producers and processors. The way the eyes of most participants are shining is a testament that most of you are fed on nutritious, quality, and safe foods. It was for this reason that the Bank supported the organization of this Summit.

Safe and nutritious food is the foundation for good health

Indeed, nothing is more important to the long-term well-being of the African people than the success of its food systems. Abundance of a variety of safe and nutritious food is the foundation for good health and cognitive development. At every stage of the food production life cycle; from preparation, to handling and to storage; from farm to factory and to fork, consumers must pay great attention to compliance to food safety standards, in our collective mission to achieve food security and eliminate malnutrition in Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that food safety, nutrition and food security are inextricably linked.

As you are aware the African continent is the most affected by hunger and malnutrition with about one fifth of its population undernourished and 283 million people go to bed hungry. The extent of the undernutrition gap makes the Bank’s Feed Africa goals daunting to achieve without significant investments by the Bank and its partners. By focusing on domestic food safety more deliberately, countries can strengthen the competitiveness of their farmers and food industry and develop their human capital. After all, safe food is essential to fuel a heathy, educated and resilient workforce.

With the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, intra-African food demand is projected to increase by 178% by 2050, therefore, it is crucial to create and implement effective food safety systems which guarantee that food producers and suppliers along the supply chain work responsibly and ensure the safety of food. There is also low level of investment and compliance with international standards, thus weak monitoring and enforcement of these regulations by government or authorities.

The cost of compliance is high especially for small holder farmers, it is our duty as agriculture and food security stakeholders to look for innovative ways of supporting small holder farmers who are the major food producers in Africa to comply to food safety standards. While we acknowledge the need for African agriculture to undergo a systemic transformation to meet rising food demands, doing this without addressing the public health burden of foodborne illness will be counterproductive.

Supporting food safety efforts across the continent

The Bank’s Feed Africa Strategy acknowledges “improving food safety to boost trade and public health as an enabler for achieving agricultural transformation in Africa.” As a result, the Bank has taken bold steps to support our regional member countries (RMCs) to prioritize, design and implement development projects that have implications for food safety and standards.

Similarly, the Bank has supported institutions of government that are charged with these responsibilities. Indicative mentions include support to Bureau of Standards across Africa. The Bank is prioritizing the support and instrumentation of the Bureaus of Standards across the RMCs. We also support them to equip these laboratories to meet international standards for exports. In collaboration with UNIDO, we support with the accreditation of these laboratories to meet local and international standards and regulation.

At the continental level, the Bank is partnering with the African Union (AU) to set-up continental and regional reference laboratories for export promotion and import substitution. [We have also supported] the publication of a knowledge product entitled ‘‘Food Safety in Africa: Past Endeavors and Future Directions’ Report’ in partnership with the World Bank and other institutions

During the launch of The Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP) hosted by the World bank in collaboration with the AfDB, the Bank mission engaged in a very fruitful discussion with partners willing to co-finance on capacity building initiatives to address the food safety concern in Africa. The proposal was developed in partnership with the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists (AOAC), the International Food Safety Training Laboratory (IFSTL) of Université Laval and the African Union Commission (AUC).  This training is most needed now that food safety concerns are big issues; moreover, the capacity of national institutions to regulate their food systems and the mushrooming SMEs is limited in scope and experience. This training will bring the added value of helping the national systems and helping the SMEs to comply with these standards.

Milk collection centers are veritable platform to collect milk from itinerant herders that move around to pasture their livestock. It is critical to have milk collection centers in specified areas around the cattle routes, for the purpose of collecting milk. Collection centers have been equipped with scold storage facilities, sanitary measures/facilities, supported with generators, for areas, where the national grid cannot reach. Milk must be evacuated within 4 days of such cold storage (usually in facilities with 4C or lower temperature) to avoid the spoilage of milk. Cold van transportation system is also critical in evacuating and transporting milk to bulk processing facilities. Such transportation systems must be meant to deliver on specified times and routes for the effective functioning of the collection centers. Testing facilities to detect and assess the quality of milk which has implication for health, marketing, and pricing. The milk collection centers, and the transport facilities have testing facilities to at least know the milk-to-water ratio, the relative density of milk and the free fatty acid (FFA) in the milk. These physico-chemical properties of milk have implication on the marketability of the milk and public health concerns of the consumers.

The Bank provided a funding allowing the African Regional Organization for Standardization (ARSO) to implement “Harmonization of African Standards for Agriculture and Food Products” project. The project was aimed at removing the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) and establishing a harmonized standard for all African countries to promote intra-African trade. The project harmonized 50 product standards and 10 Good Agricultural Practices available in English and French. The Bank through its Trade Division continue its support to ARSO and recently financed the project: Harmonization and Certification of African Standards for Dairy, Horticulture, Fisheries and Aquaculture Products, in partnership with ARSO. The overall objective of the project is capacity building for standardization institutions to train Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises on harmonized standards and certification on the dairy, horticultural, fisheries and aquaculture products to support increased market access under the AfCFTA

The Bank is supporting the project “Strengthening Food Safety Standards for Improved Competitiveness of SMEs in the Sahel Project in Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal”. The project is a multi-stakeholder partnership led by relevant stakeholders to catalyse additional resources and expertise from the Bank’s development partners. It will be implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in collaboration with G5 Sahel and the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS). Under the Fund for African Private Sector Assistance (FAPA), the Bank is working on the project: Capacity Building for Food Safety, Quality and Standardization in East Africa Economic Communities (EAC) for Public Health Safety and Trade Promotion. This project aims to implement a pilot that will serve as starting point for a long-term scalable and sustainable program of food safety capacity building over sub-Saharan Africa, to improve laboratory food safety testing capabilities and thereby food safety systems in participating countries.

The Bank is also an active member of the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Coordination Forum set up under the leadership of the AUC which is a platform to strengthen the coordination and complementarity of the various intervention in supporting African Countries in the SPS area.

Food safety is never done, when you’ve built the system; you need to evaluate, monitor and look for opportunities for improvement and it is by improving that you build that trust across the market segments.

Damian Ihedioha, PhD – Agribusiness Development Division Manager at AfDB


Reinforcing food safety control systems to spur growth

With an expanding world economy, liberalization of food trade, growing consumer demand and developments in food science and technology, international trade in food is increasing rapidly. This calls for the deployment of appropriate production technologies and other value addition processes to ensure that agri-food products for domestic and international markets meet the required quality, environment, health, and safety standards.

As Africa is poised to become the World’s largest trading bloc following the launch of the AfCFTA on 1 January 2021, it presents an opportunity to ensure the removal of unnecessary barriers that impede regional and international agricultural trade and particularly cross border trade in food products. These barriers to trade often push traders (especially cross-border traders, most of whom are women and youth) to use informal channels, increasing the time and cost associated with trade, and affecting the rejection rates of goods at entry points in both domestic and export markets. Higher volumes of intra-African trade in agri-food products and the elimination of non-tariff barriers have the potential to boost industrialization and enhance competitiveness, create sustainable jobs, incomes and livelihoods and improve long-term agricultural productivity and food security on the continent.

The availability of adequate cold storage capacity to enhance quality of products is therefore critical for the agribusiness development in Africa, especially for women and youth led enterprises. Efficient cold system will reduce food losses and facilitates access to lucrative regional and international markets.

Partnership with private sector

The need to provide support and build capacity of agri-food SMEs that handle 80 percent of food consumption and 96 percent of domestic supply chains are imperative to provide technical support in the design of the cold storage capacity and training on the maintenance. These SMEs are fully and actively involved in the different phases of the project, including co-financing some activities. Hence collaboration with private companies specialized in the development of affordable and adapted cold storage capacity in developing countries is critical. The project will use innovative approaches and cold generation components such as solar energy to design green and environment sensitive cold storage system.

This means that investing in foundational knowledge, human resources and infrastructure, realizing synergies among investments in food safety, human health, and environmental protection; and using public investment to leverage private investment is crucial for food safety interventions. The shift in approaches from using interest in food safety to promote agricultural trade, but more to raise and promote public health concerns of the population.

Following the launch of ‘Food Safety in Africa: Past Endeavors and Future Directions’ published by the Global Food Safety Partnership of the World Bank and the African Development Bank on 11 February 2019, and the clarion call from participating countries from Africa on the need for capacity building to their national systems, this proposal becomes most cogent. Similarly, enhancing the capacities of these countries to regulate food safety issues among small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) for food safety and trade promotion becomes more compelling.


Finally, although the safety of food is a classic public good, governments cannot and do not have the primary responsibility for safe food, rather it needs to become a shared responsibility between the public, private sector, and citizens.

Food safety is never done, when you’ve built the system; you need to evaluate, monitor and look for opportunities for improvement and it is by improving that you build that trust across the market segments. The African Development Bank is committed to supporting key activities emanating as next steps from this summit to secure our food systems. Together, we can change the landscape of food safety and security in Africa. Let us make food safety a reality in Africa.”

This feature appeared in the November 2022 issue of Food Safety Africa. You can read the magazine HERE