AFRICA – Speakers at the inaugural African Continental Association for Food Protection (ACAFP) conference have underscored the need to build capacity, engage policymakers, and use technology to improve food safety in Africa.

ACAFP which is an affiliate of the International Association of Food Protection (IAFP) was established in 2013 as the African Association for Food Protection (AAFP) and consists of food safety professionals, students, government workers, and professors from the continent of Africa and/or committed to educating proper food safety skills and procedures across the continent.

The session, organized by the Africa Union Commission (AUC), featured Simplice Nouala Head of the Agriculture and Food Security Division at AUC; Ade Freeman, Regional Program Leader for Africa, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); Hermogene Nsengimana, Secretary General, African Organization for Standardization (ARSO); Ernest Aubee, Head of the Agriculture Division at the ECOWAS Commission; and Hakim Mufumbiro, Uganda regional coordinator, CCAFRICA.

According to the experts, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) offers potential including the opportunity to develop regional value chains.

“We know the challenges in Africa with close to a billion people not having access to affordable diets. There are new opportunities created by the AfCFTA and corresponding activities to reduce the risks in trade but also give greater access to market that would make food more affordable for the African population. It is a game-changer and if implemented well I think it will create huge market opportunities. At FAO, we work with others to ensure this opportunity that Africa has is not missed,” Freeman said.

Hermogene Nsengimana, the Secretary General of ARSO however pointed out that to maximize on AfCFTA, Africa needs to build testing capacity and ensure all labs are accredited to guarantee products safety.

“We are promoting one standard, one test and one certificate to be accepted on the continent. The burden on SMEs is multiple testing. Mutual recognition agreements can also be used to reduce the burden. We can think about having reference labs as each country will not have a top lab for different testing,” he said.

Africa’s informal sector trade

In line with Freeman, the bulk of trade in Africa is informal and enforcing food safety remains a challenge.

“In the first place, we need to generate data and provide the evidence on who these traders are, what they are doing and what they need to do to help them mainstream in ways that can promote food safety and access to nutritious food,” Freeman said.

He added that this involves generating, collating and sharing the data to promote sound decision making, technical assistance and investments.

“How can we use evidence to bring them into the formal food system, maintain their participation and provide the infrastructure such as labs to be able to respond and manage the food safety risks along the chain,” he questioned.

Nsengimana backed Freeman by pointing out that without strong regional value chains the informal sector will be vulnerable to issues on safety.

“We should promote quality culture from the SME level going forward. A bigger value chain can share the cost of certification and conformity assessment. We tend to over regulate, it is a bad thing. We should be teaching and helping the informal sector on how they can go about abiding by SPS measures and TBT requirements but we tend to work on policy,” Nsengimana said.

He added it was imperative to include the private sector in discussions and engage with consumer associations.

Mufumbiro  proposed that policymakers should be engaged highlighting the consequences of unsafe food.

“It is key the right information goes to the right stakeholders who are able to make that right decision in terms of investments. In East Africa, we are implementing a project supported by the Codex Trust Fund whose main objective is to raise the profile of food safety in political circles. The outcome we want to see is added investments towards food safety across six countries,” he said.

He highlighted that a number of countries have been focusing on infrastructure development and security, which are important, but they are beginning to shift to other areas of which food safety is one of them.

“We have seen global efforts such as establishment of World Food Safety Day raising awareness. Africa is now developing the food safety strategy and a possibility of creating a food safety week in June. All these actions can help us unlock why it is beneficial to have food safety as one of the priorities areas,” he informed.

Further, he alluded that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is a tool for the future as seen during the pandemic.

“In the development of a food safety strategy for Africa, one of the priorities going forward is setting up an early warning systems and surveillance monitoring because without it you cannot track and trace what is happening on the continent,” Mufumbiro said.

Freeman noted that challenges in the continent require a range of science, technology and innovation, according to Freeman.

“There are a couple of things that are happening but one of the most important is the work we are doing with the African Union Commission to establish the African Food Safety Agency. This will provide an opportunity for a continental effort that is well-coordinated to enhance food safety,” he said.

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