AFRICA – Africa has a big domestic market that possesses significant opportunities. Currently, Africa accounts for 2.9 per cent of the world production and 2.6 per cent of the world trade according to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) statistics. Connoisseurs from various African countries converged at the virtual Africa Food Safety & Quality summit to deliberate on how to boost food safety and quality and enhance InterAfrican Trade through regulatory measures.

The panel comprised of, Kema Benedicta Ashibuogwu (PMJF, NLCF), Head, QMS ,Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Directorate, NAFDAC; MaryAnn Kindiki , Manager, National Codex Contact Point, KEBS; Paul Chale , Senior Advisor, Technoserve Zambia; Aliyu Angara, Registrar/CEO, Institute of Public Analysts of Nigeria (IPAN); Dr. George Ooko Abong’, Senior Lecturer, University of Nairobi; and Andrew Edewa, Director, Standards and SPS Measures at TradeMark East Africa.

According to Paul Chale, Senior Advisor, Technoserve Zambia, Intercontinental trade in Africa presents a massive opportunity and comes with a lot of responsibility to be able to serve the 1.2 billion consumers, which is the greatest block. Specific concerns that restrict trade between African countries need to be addressed.

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) , a flagship project of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 was recently enacted as a blueprint for attaining inclusive and sustainable development across the continent over the next 50 years. It aims to boost intra-African trade by providing a comprehensive and mutually beneficial trade agreement among the member states, covering trade in goods and services, investment, and competition policy. Advantages of the AfCFTA goes beyond just the market alone, but also increasing the volume of trade within the continent hence creating more jobs and income opportunities for citizens of each country.

“It is important to look at the cooperation that would be existing within countries, governments, professionals. All this makes Africa one as globalization is yet to be experienced in the continent. The AfCFTA opens opportunities to benefit from this globalization aspect, but it goes with rules which must be observed,” Andrew Edewa, Director, Standards and SPS Measures at TradeMark East Africa

Trade Barriers

One of the major barriers to trade in the African continent is the different trading regimes which makes it a hurdle to cross the borders. There is need to review the trade policies of the countries and look at nontariff barriers, roadblocks and the unnecessary stops that eat into time and cost of doing business.The goods crossing borders should meet quality and safety standards.

Edewa informed that TradeMark East Africa have tried to work at the borders having one stop border posts to reduce border crossing time.They’ve also collaborated with governments to address the various non-tariff barriers and support them to come up with monitoring mechanisms.TradeMark East Africa is a trade facilitating organization focusing on markets and trade. They deal with reducing barriers to trade on one hand and promoting competitiveness on the other hand.

The most important element is to demonstrate to the importing country is that the goods meet their requirements.

The Standards Director called for harmonized regimes within governments and harmonized interventions in the public sector to ease trade.

Harmonization of standards

As said by MaryAnn Kindiki, Manager, National Codex Contact Point, KEBS, in matters of regulations, the most significant challenge draws back to harmonization. The continent is looking at how to harmonize harmonization itself because at the regional level, countries have divergent levels of implementation of food safety policies.

There are diverse components of food safety management in the continent, each at different levels in each country making it difficult to develop one document to serve them.

“That’s where Codex comes in coz in terms of the World Trade Organization Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS) where food safety is the key aspect, it is the recognized body for food safety. It is where everybody falls back when issues of food safety come into view. Therefore, membership of African countries to Codex Alimentarius Commission is very key,” she expounded.

MaryAnn encouraged member countries to get involved in the setting of standards at Codex level as that is the platform where each country’s interest is taken into consideration.

In response to a question on how soon the continent would formulate an “African Standard”, she enlightened that the standards do exist at African Regional Standardization Organization (ARSO). African countries are members of technical committees at ARSO.

She informed that there is a deficiency of political willingness to enable the operation of ARSO in a manner that is more effective and sufficient to have more African Standards to enable trade within African region. The structures are there, it is only the implementation and support of the system to ensure that African Standards are rolled out to help in the enactment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCTA) Agreement.

West Africa & NAFDAC -Regulating food safety

In line with Kema Benedicta Ashibuogwu (PMJF, NLCF), Head, QMS, Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Directorate, NAFDAC, Africa has an abundance of agricultural produce that are going to waste due to unhygienic environment, political instability, regulatory bottlenecks and largely corruption.

She said that equipment needed to meet quality standards and contracting laboratories to provide technical details are expensive.

Little technical things are actually the bottom line that are needed to sell African products out there into the world. Regulators need to create a link between them and the supply chain.

National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is the agency responsible for regulating and granting permits for the exportation, importation, manufacture, and the registration of products in Nigeria. All food products in the country must possess a NAFDAC number.

The regulatory body identified the challenges of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in registration of their products with NAFDAC. The Agency has instituted several activities which include further review of guidelines and streamlined registration processes to handle their peculiar difficulties. The aim is to remove critical bottlenecks and bureaucratic red tapes that hinder the smooth registration and regulatory activities of MSMEs.

Nigeria has in the past faced rejection for most of its export products owed to poor quality.

“We are more interested in the profits than the quality of these products and we use the European standards to judge our products. We look at the dollars and the euros rather than the standard. Let’s go inwards and work on African standards in our own systematic way. If we follow the guidelines, we have set down in them, there’s no reason why the western world will not buy into that standard. The AfCFTA Agreement has given us that free platform. Our standards should be unique to us. They should speak to what we actually want to achieve. Codex did not wake up all of a sudden,” Kema passionately voiced.

Infrastructure and people gap

According to Aliyu Angara, Registrar/CEO, Institute of Public Analysts of Nigeria (IPAN), there’s a huge skillset gap in the entire continent as the capacity of analysts is generally low and focus needs to be placed in building the analytical capacity.

“Even where capacities are developed, analysts tend to get reassigned to other managerial duties hence always creating the gap. You need to have a targeted strategy and approach whereby you have good continuous stream of supply of competent individuals,” he adds.

Infrastructure is a huge problem in terms of imports, exchange, maintenance and calibration of equipment.

Competencies lack in fixing, servicing, calibrating, and qualifying the equipment. The equipment need to be qualified in terms of installation, operational as well as performance qualification.

IPAN has identified the challenges and is working at developing capacity in all these areas. It requires stepwise approach and continuous improvement towards solving these issues.

IPAN is a professional regulatory body for all testing laboratory analysts in Nigeria, established by decree NO.100 of 1992 and the act of parliament 2004.Its mandate is to train, examine, register and regulate the practice of public analysts professionally referred to as Testing Laboratory Analysts.

In as much as infrastructure is at the forefront in reinforcing food safety and quality, the African continent has not clearly prioritized it. It has built infrastructure without linking it to the supply chains, e.g., equipping a lab without having the products to be tested in mind. The approach needs to change in terms of looking at the priority commodity or products to be tested and then working backwards to see what testing and human capacities are required.

Edewa pointed out that African countries tend to be competing amongst themselves by each establishing its own infrastructure which takes ages. By the time they are done, it’s already obsolete and new technologies and new products have come up.

He noted that it was high time that African countries begin to share some common infrastructure and expertise, to allow recognition of facilities as either regional or continental.

“Until we reach a point where we have a culture of looking at things in a standardized way, and inculcate the food safety culture where our morals will dictate that we do not offer what is not contaminated, then we will just be talking and not making changes. So, it goes back to our attitude as a people,” Dr. George Ooko Abong’, Senior Lecturer, University of Nairobi.

Standards are a language for trade but at the same time have been used as a barrier. Concerted efforts in the private and public sector, and academia are required to bridge the disconnect that exists among the areas and meet the specific needs of the value chain.

“Everything that we’ve spoken about is doable, but there’s very little investment in food safety at the moment. My thinking was, what do we need to do to upgrade regulatory systems, initially at national level followed by national level and then the African Continent level,” commented Chale.

Watch the panel discussion on YouTube at FOOD AFRICA TV via this link;

About the Africa Food Safety & Quality Summit

The 2021 edition of the Africa Food Safety & Quality Summit was held virtually from Nairobi, Kenya. It brought together more than 1300 delegates from more than 70 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.

The Summit, which was addressed by more than 40 speakers from the private sector, Government ministries and agencies, NGOs and development institutions and academic and research institutes across Africa and beyond, highlighted the opportunities, challenges and trends in the management and practice of food safety, quality and compliance in Africa.

With plans to be an annual conference and expo, the Summit was sponsored by Ishida, Bruker, Minebea Intec and Bureau Veritas – some of the leading providers of various technologies and services to Africa’s food and agriculture industry.

The event’s strategic partners included; Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC), Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), Ministry of Health Kenya, Kenya Institute of Food Science and Technology (KIFST), Kenya Institute of Public Analysts of Nigeria (IPAN), Kenya Dairy Board (KDB), Food Science and Technology Platform of Kenya (FoSTeP-K), Retail Trade Association of Kenya (RETRAK).

The next edition of the Summit is slated for June 22-24, 2022, with plans to host a hybrid event, with a physical presence in Nairobi, Kenya and a virtual platform to enable attendees from across Africa to attend with ease.

More information about the Summit can be found on the website www.foodsafetyafrica,net/summit