Farming scene in the highlands of Ethiopia (ILRI/Apollo Habtamu).

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has focused global attention on the interconnectedness of people, animals and the environment and how this links to the spread of zoonotic diseases, two postdoctoral scientists affiliated with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are among five recipients of this year’s Soulsby Fellowships, awarded to support early career researchers in human or veterinary medicine working on One Health projects. 

One Health can be defined as the collaborative efforts of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment.

The two postdoctoral scientists, Lisa Cavalerie from the University of Liverpool and Mark Nanyingi from the University of Liverpool and the University of Nairobi, are collaborators in the One Health Regional Network for the Horn of Africa project, a multidisciplinary international partnership that is working to improve the health and wealth of people in the Horn of Africa through One Health research.

Lisa Cavalerie, a veterinary epidemiologist, will study the benefits and risks of livestock ownership to maternal health in women in Ethiopia. She says: ‘The aim of the study will be to develop sustainable livestock health management to improve both maternal and child health.’

Mark Nanyingi, an infectious disease epidemiologist, will investigate the presence of Rift Valley fever virus in people, livestock and mosquitoes in Kenya. He aims to develop a human-animal integrated surveillance system which will inform national policy- and decision-making in the event of outbreaks. ‘This study will enhance our understanding of the geographical risk, distribution and genetic diversity of the virus,’ says Nanyingi.

We congratulate them on their awards and wish them all the best as they undertake their research projects.

Read more about the Soulsby Foundation and the other 2020 Soulsby Fellows.

Fruit and vegetables on sale alongside other food items in a local market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Geraldine Klarenberg).

African food systems are dominated by informal markets, typically open-air markets found at designated sites and street corners, which often have poor hygiene and are subject to limited or poor regulation. Occasionally there are calls for these informal markets to be banned, but most consumers depend on them as they are more accessible and affordable than formal markets.

As we celebrate World Food Safety Day on 7 June 2020, it is crucial that governments recognize the importance of better food safety in informal markets. One way to encourage them to take food safety seriously is by harnessing the power of consumer demand.

Foodborne diseases cause a massive health burden and remain a persistent impediment to socio-economic development. The World Health Organization estimates that close to 600 million people fall ill and 420,000 die every year from foodborne diseases worldwide. Children under five years of age make up 125,000 of those deaths.

Africa bears the largest per capita burden of foodborne diseases. Every year, more than 91 million people fall ill and 137,000 lose their lives, a toll comparable to the continent’s losses from major infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

In Ethiopia, as in other developing countries, most consumers buy their food from informal markets, attracted by their low prices, freshness, availability of local products and credit services. However, consumers are concerned about the safety of the food they buy from these markets, and they show this in their purchasing behaviour. Research has found that consumers would pay 5–15% more for safety-assured products.

Furthermore, demand for food safety increases with economic development, rising income, urbanization, increased media coverage and education level. The current COVID-19 pandemic has made consumers more conscious of the safety of the food they buy and eat.

The Government of Ethiopia is working to increase the use of appropriate food safety assurance systems to ensure food quality and safety, but challenges include limited infrastructure and human capacity, such as laboratory facilities and trained personnel. A further challenge is that consumers often cannot detect unsafe food.

In contrast, food products developed for export markets receive considerable attention and are subject to higher standards of food safety. Decision-makers understand that meeting international food quality and safety regulatory requirements is a must for building trust among foreign trading partners.

This success has led to attempts to directly adopt some export food safety approaches for food products marketed in the informal market. However, since the settings are so different these approaches rarely work.

An alternative approach that is showing considerable promise is to harness consumers’ concerns about food safety to create greater demand for safe food. This simple approach requires educating consumers and increasing the awareness and capacity of food retailers and producers.

Urban food markets in Africa: Incentivizing food safety using a pull-push approach is a research project led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Kingdom Department for International Development and the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. It develops and tests a novel but simple and practical approach to improving food safety: building consumer demand for safe food, traders’ ability to deliver it and regulator capacity to support it. It is, in short, a pull-push approach.

For the success of this approach, consumers need to be better informed on safe food including choice, purchase, storage and preparation. In addition, traders and producers need to be supported to develop their capacity to provide safe food and regulators need advice to create an enabling environment.

While regional estimates of the incidence of foodborne diseases are available, less is known at the country level. This project will also provide estimates of the incidence of key foodborne diseases in Ethiopia and provide a better understanding of the cost of foodborne diseases, how these diseases manifest and how they can be controlled.

Food safety is one of the key elements of ILRI’s research portfolio. Our approach to food safety is risk-based, identifying foodborne hazards, generating evidence, developing solutions and building the capacity of policymakers to use risk-based approaches to improve food safety in informal markets.

This feature article for World Food Safety Day was written by Beamlak Tesfaye, a communications officer at ILRI, and Theo Knight-Jones, a senior scientist at ILRI. It was originally published by The Reporter.

Visit the ILRI World Food Safety Day 2020 landing page for more information on our research on food safety in informal markets.

A4NH 2017 annual report cover

The CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) has published its 2017 annual report which highlights the program’s accomplishments and activities during the first year of its second phase.

Detailed in the report are research, events and results from across A4NH’s five research flagships and four focus countries, including:

  • in-depth analyses of food systems in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Vietnam, with a recently released report on findings in Ethiopia;
  • details on the release of 29 new biofortified crop varieties, extending reach to 3.6 million farming households;
  • the first licence for Aflasafe to be granted to a private company in Africa, for production, sale, and distribution in the Gambia and Senegal to protect crops from aflatoxin;
  • a special issue of the journal Global Food Security dedicated to stories of change, an innovative initiative building a resource base of experiential knowledge that explores drivers of change in improving nutrition;
  • research into how rice intensification in Africa can be achieved without increasing the risk of malaria; and
  • efforts on incorporating equity into A4NH’s research agenda.

Download the annual report or read an interactive online version.

ILRI aflatoxin infographic

Aflatoxins are highly toxic fungal by-products produced by certain strains of Aspergillus fungi in more than 40 susceptible crops including maize and groundnuts. Aflatoxins can be separated into aflatoxins B1, B2, G1 and G2.

When ingested, aflatoxin B1 is metabolized to aflatoxin M1 which is secreted into milk. Aflatoxin B1 is particularly important because it has been found in most foods and animal feeds and is highly carcinogenic.

Aflatoxins cause around 90,000 cases of liver cancer each year and are strongly associated with stunting and immune suppression in children. Aflatoxins in contaminated animal feed can lead to reduced animal productivity. They can end up in products like milk, meat and eggs, thus presenting a health risk to humans, with children being particularly susceptible.

In Ethiopia, previous studies have investigated aflatoxin contamination in staple cereals, red chili pepper and ground peas. Now, a new research study published in the journal Food Control (6 July 2015) has, for the first time, documented aflatoxin contamination in milk and dairy feeds in Ethiopia and the results show that milk and dairy feeds in the Greater Addis Ababa milk shed are highly contaminated with aflatoxins.

The cross-sectional study by scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) was carried out in the Greater Addis Ababa milk shed between September 2014 and February 2015 in order to detect and quantify the levels of aflatoxin M1 in samples of raw cow’s milk and aflatoxin B1 in samples of dairy feed.

The Greater Addis Ababa milk shed was selected because it is a rapidly intensifying system where aflatoxins are likely to be an increasing problem. A value chain approach was used, whereby production, processing and marketing of dairy feeds and milk were examined, as well as milk sold to consumers in Addis Ababa.

A total of 110 milk samples (100 from dairy farmers and 10 from milk traders) and 156 dairy feed samples (114 from farmers and 42 from feed producers, processors and traders) were collected and analysed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).

The study analysed all the commonly used dairy feeds such as mixed concentrate feed, brewery by-products, maize grain, pea hulls and silage. The most common ingredients in concentrate feeds were wheat bran, noug cake, pea hulls and maize grain.

All the milk samples were found to be contaminated with aflatoxin M1. Over 90% of the milk samples contained aflatoxin M1 levels that exceeded the European Union limit of 0.05 micrograms per litre. Out of a total of 110 milk samples, only nine contained aflatoxin M1 levels below 0.05 micrograms per litre.

Similarly, all the feed samples were contaminated with aflatoxin B1, with levels ranging from 7 to 419 micrograms per kilogram. Along the value chain from farmers to feed manufacturers and traders, the levels of aflatoxin contamination were fairly similar.

Out of a total of 156 dairy feed samples, only 16 contained aflatoxin B1 at a level less than or equal to 10 micrograms per kilogram. At the same time, 41 feed samples contained aflatoxin B1 at levels exceeding 100 micrograms per kilogram.

There was a significant association between aflatoxin B1 contamination in concentrate feeds and the presence of noug cake in the feed.

Noug (Guizotia abyssinica or Niger seed) is an oilseed crop that is indigenous to Ethiopia. Noug seed is pressed to produce noug oil while the remaining noug cake is sold as animal feed to feed processors and dairy farmers. Noug cake is becoming increasingly popular among dairy farmers in Ethiopia because its high nutrient content increases animal productivity.

Noug cakes were found to be highly contaminated with aflatoxin B1 (290–397 micrograms per kilogram) while the other feed components (wheat bran, maize grain and Brewer’s dry yeast) had relatively low levels of aflatoxin.

For this reason, the authors of the study recommend that further research on aflatoxin risk mitigation should focus on noug cake so as to effectively reduce the risk of aflatoxin contamination in peri-urban and urban dairy value chains in Ethiopia. Risk assessment of aflatoxins in noug seed and its by-products in other food chains should also be carried out.

In addition, there is an overall need to increase awareness of aflatoxins and to support risk mitigation practices along the entire dairy value chain.

“Policymakers and development organization need to support the dissemination of information about good agricultural and storage practices and other simple risk-reduction measures,” the authors conclude.

Gizachew D, Szonyi B, Tegegne A, Hanson J and Grace D. Aflatoxin contamination of milk and dairy feeds in the Greater Addis Ababa milk shed, Ethiopia. Food Control 59(2016): 773-779.

You may download a 4-page brief of the research article at