Food Safety


Market place in Kenya (photo credit: World Bank/Sambrian Mbaabu).

Food safety has never featured prominently on Africa’s development agenda. When it is an issue, typically the focus has been on high-value food items produced for export, while food safety in domestic markets has been largely neglected, both by governments and development partners. This must change. Recent research has shown that the health and economic consequences of foodborne diseases in Africa are significant and growing, as urbanization and income growth prompt dietary changes that increasingly expose consumers to food safety hazards.

The coming decade is critical. A ‘business as usual’ approach to food safety, involving a combination of post-outbreak firefighting and fragmented regulatory and ad hoc interventions, will do little to check the threats posed by unsafe food in many African countries. The good news is that many of these problems can be controlled and their costs reduced. A combination of incremental and systematic measures, well within the capacity of most governments, can flatten the curve of foodborne illness.

Until recently, research on foodborne diseases was mostly limited to high-income countries. Research and public health interventions in poorer countries largely focused on the so-called big three—tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria—and on maternal and child mortality. Yet, recent epidemiological research from the World Health Organization shows the costs of neglecting foodborne diseases in developing countries. Worldwide, the global health burden of foodborne diseases is on par with the big three. The young, old, malnourished and poor are disproportionately impacted and children under five years of age are especially vulnerable.

Globally, Africa south of the Sahara and emerging Asia have the highest incidence of and death rates from foodborne diseases. Yet while the incidence rates of the two regions are comparable, Africa’s estimated death rate is nearly four times higher. The reasons for that difference are not fully understood, but the prevalence of endemic ailments and poor diagnostic and treatment options probably account for much of it. Drawing on data from the World Health Organization and other recent sources, we estimate that Africa experiences around 135 million cases of foodborne diseases and 180,000 foodborne disease-related deaths per year. Microbial pathogens—especially Salmonella spp., toxigenic Escherichia coli, norovirus and Campylobacter spp.—account for about 80% of Africa’s foodborne disease burden.

The economic consequences of foodborne diseases in Africa are correspondingly severe. A recent World Bank study estimated the productivity losses alone attributed to unsafe food within Africa at $20 billion in 2016 and the cost of treating these illnesses at an additional $3.5 billion. These costs are heaviest in larger, middle-income countries such as South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt, yet are also significant elsewhere. Overall, the relative economic burden of foodborne diseases is higher for African countries than for developing countries elsewhere.

Both the health and economic consequences of foodborne diseases in Africa are likely to grow as the continent develops. In low-income countries, food is typically produced close to the point of consumption and undergoes limited transformation. Starchy staples such as cassava, maize and rice predominate. Traditional processing techniques dominate and are often fairly effective at reducing risk. As they develop and urbanize, countries experience rapid shifts in diet and towards more intensified agriculture. Such transitions typically lead to increased consumption of fresh produce and animal-sourced foods and a lengthening of food supply chains. Yet much of this perishable food continues to be handled and distributed through informal channels, creating potentially multiple points for food hazards to develop. In these transitioning food systems, the official regulatory apparatus is often overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of emerging challenges.

Until very recently, domestic food safety programs in Africa have been few and poorly funded. By contrast, literally hundreds of projects supported by trade partners or development agencies have sought to address international trade-related food safety problems. These have been beneficial and have helped to push Africa’s trade in safety-sensitive foods such as fish, fresh fruit and vegetables from $3.8 billion in 2001 to $16.1 billion in 2017. But overall, the available evidence suggests that the trade-related costs associated with unsafe food in African countries are small compared to the domestic public health costs and productivity losses. In fact, we estimate the ratio between domestic and trade-related costs is likely to be on the order of 40 to 1, suggesting that the predominant attention of policymakers on the trade impacts of food safety has been deeply misguided.

African countries must implement better domestic food safety policies and support them with needed investment. But this, in itself, will not be enough to give them the upper hand against foodborne diseases. What they need is nothing less than a food safety paradigm shift. The traditional regulatory model, imported from high-income countries, centres on enforcement through regular inspection of food facilities and product testing, with set legal and financial penalties. This model is ill-suited to food systems in Africa, where smallholder farmers, micro- and small enterprises and informal food channels predominate, surveillance and inspection mechanisms can be weak and court procedures challenging and slow. It introduces an antagonistic and often unproductive relationship between government and the private sector as regulator versus regulated.

A better approach is to think of food safety as a shared responsibility between food business operators, consumers and the government. In this model, governments set forth a vision, convene stakeholders and offer a diverse set of policy instruments to involve, incentivize and leverage the actions of key value chain actors. Instead of being the ‘official food control’ authority, governments should act as facilitators encouraging investments and behaviour change. Experimentation and flexibility will be critical.

There are no quick fixes to Africa’s food safety challenges. They require a comprehensive approach that focuses on improving food safety awareness, practices and governance. Foundational investments will be needed in people, infrastructure and institutions. Addressing these issues will require sustained attention from technical agencies and government ministries as well as donors. It will require broader interventions to improve access to quality public health services, clean water and sanitation and improved agricultural productivity. It will require, in short, a commitment commensurate to the scale of the problem. It is also likely, as in other parts of the world, that improvements will ultimately be driven by better-aware consumers demanding food safety and eliciting responses from public sector and food suppliers. Recognizing that is a good place to start.

This article by Steven Jaffee and Delia Grace was originally posted on the International Food Policy Research Institute website. It is based on a chapter they and others co-authored in the 2020 Annual Trends and Outlook Report: ‘Why Food Safety Matters to Africa: Making the Case for Policy Action’ by Steven Jaffee, Spencer Henson, Delia Grace, Mateo Ambrosio and Franck Berthe.

Steven Jaffee is a lecturer at the University of Maryland. Delia Grace is a professor of food safety systems at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich and a contributing scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute.

Photo credit: Market place in Kenya (World Bank/Sambrian Mbaabu).

Cattle coming in from the fields in the evening in Lhate Village, Chokwe, Mozambique (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

The current coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has brought into sharp focus the interconnectedness of people, animals and the environment and how this can contribute to the spread of disease.

One Health is a concept that recognizes that the health and well-being of people is intricately linked to the health of animals and the environment. For this reason, disease outbreaks are best tackled through a One Health approach that harnesses the collaborative efforts of multiple disciplines and sectors. This is especially so for zoonotic diseases that are spread between animals and people. One Health is also useful for addressing other public health issues such as antimicrobial resistance and food safety. 

One Health is not a new concept, but it has become more important in recent years. This is because many factors have changed interactions between people, animals and the environment. These changes have led to the emergence and re-emergence of zoonotic diseases.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has an established record of collaborative One Health research in Africa and Southeast Asia. To mark One Health Day coming up next week on 3 November, we bring you highlights of some One Health research initiatives by ILRI and partners.

Ecosystem approaches to the better management of zoonotic emerging infectious diseases in Southeast Asia

This project worked directly with over 100 actors involved in managing zoonotic emerging infectious diseases across eight multi-disciplinary teams in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The project increased the capacity of researchers and policy implementers to use One Health approaches for better control of zoonotic diseases. The project also produced various research outputs and increased understanding of the teams’ knowledge, attitudes and practice in relation to One Health and how this approach could lead to better health outcomes for people, animals and the environment.

One Health Regional Network for the Horn of Africa

This project aims to improve the health and wealth of the people of the Horn of Africa by developing a regional network of individuals and organizations that can undertake high quality research into the link between people’s health and that of livestock and the environment. The project builds capacity to undertake basic and applied research in One Health through training programs and research placements for both research and non-research staff from participating institutions.

One Health Research, Education and Outreach Centre in Africa

The One Health Research, Education and Outreach Centre in Africa was launched barely a week ago (on 22 October 2020) and is hosted at ILRI’s Nairobi campus. Its goal is to improve the health of humans, animals and ecosystems through capacity building, strengthening of local, regional and global networks and provision of evidence-based policy advice on One Health in sub-Saharan Africa. It has four research themes: control of neglected tropical zoonotic diseases; emerging infectious diseases; food safety and informal markets; and prevention and control of antimicrobial resistance. The centre is currently supporting the Government of Kenya’s national response to the COVID-19 pandemic through COVID-19 testing in ILRI’s bioscience laboratories.

One Health Units for Humans, Environment, Animals and Livelihoods

This project applies a One Health approach to enhance the well-being and resilience of vulnerable communities in pastoralist and agro-pastoralist areas of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. The project brings together professionals in human and animal health and the environment to achieve better access to human and veterinary health services and sustainable natural resource management.

Photo credit: Cattle coming in from the fields in the evening in Lhate Village, Chokwe, Mozambique (ILRI/Stevie Mann)

A pastoralist milks her goat, Borana, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Zerihun Sewunet).

Milk and milk products are essential in the diets of the Borana pastoral community in Ethiopia. However, traditional handling and processing of dairy products using basic equipment and infrastructure coupled with a preference for raw milk consumption pose potential health risks to consumers.

A new research study published in the Journal of Dairy Science (Nov 2020) reports on the testing of a community-based training intervention to improve the knowledge, attitudes and practices of women in the Borana pastoral area of Ethiopia regarding hygienic handling and safe consumption of milk.

The intervention consisted of 16 hours of training on good milk production practices and prevention of milk-borne diseases using locally-tailored content. A total of 120 women who produce and sell milk products were trained and their knowledge, attitudes and practices assessed at three stages: before, immediately after and six months after training.

Overall, training increased the knowledge score of the participants from 75.6% before training to 91.4% immediately after training and 90% six months after training. The attitude score significantly improved from 58.8% before training to 64.7% immediately after training. Likewise, there was an observed increase in the trainees’ understanding of correct milk handling practices from 49.5% before training to 64.7% six months after training.

“Future training interventions should be complemented by locally adaptable technologies, provision of incentives and creation of an enabling environment including improved access to clean water and sanitation facilities,” the study authors recommend, adding that this could include practical sessions at the homesteads or herding places of the pastoralists.

Citation

Amenu, K., Agga, G.E., Kumbe, A., Shibiru, A., Desta, H., Tiki, W., Dego, O.K., Wieland, B., Grace, D. and Alonso, S. 2020. MILK Symposium review: Community-tailored training to improve the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of women regarding hygienic milk production and handling in Borana pastoral area of southern Ethiopia. Journal of Dairy Science 103(11): 9748–9757. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2020-18292

Photo credit: A pastoralist milks her goat, Borana, Ethiopia (ILRI/Zerihun Sewunet)

Open Access Week 2020 banner. Open with purpose: Taking action to build structural equity and inclusion. October 19-25.

International Open Access Week is an opportunity to raise awareness about open access publishing of research outputs to enable their universal online accessibility. Research outputs are wide-ranging and include articles in peer-reviewed journals, books, book chapters, conference proceedings, infographics, presentations, posters, reports, theses and videos.

The theme of this year’s Open Access Week (19–25 October) is ‘Open with purpose: taking action to build structural equity and inclusion’.

The Animal and Human Health program of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) seeks to effectively manage or eliminate livestock, zoonotic and foodborne diseases that matter to the poor through the generation and use of knowledge, technologies and products, leading to higher farmer incomes and better health and nutrition for consumers and livestock.

To celebrate Open Access Week 2020, we bring you a curated selection of recently published open access outputs authored and co-authored by scientists from ILRI’s Animal and Human Health program from across our research portfolio on antimicrobial resistance, food safety, One Health and zoonotic diseases.

Book chapters

  • Bett, B., Randolph, D. and McDermott, J. 2020. Africa’s growing risk of diseases that spread from animals to people. In: Swinnen, J. and McDermott, J. (eds), COVID-19 and global food security. Washington, D.C.: IFPRI. pp. 124–128. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/108990
  • Kang’ethe, E., Grace, D., Alonso, S., Lindahl, J., Mutua, F. and Haggblade, S. 2020. Food safety and public health implications of growing urban food markets. In: AGRA, Africa Agriculture Status Report. Feeding Africa’s cities: Opportunities, challenges, and policies for linking African farmers with growing urban food markets. Issue 8. Nairobi, Kenya: Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA): 101–119. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/109386

Peer-reviewed journal articles

  • Ferguson, A.W., Muloi, D., Ngatia, D.K., Kiongo, W., Kimuyu, D.M., Webala, P.W., Olum, M.O., Muturi, M., Thumbi, S.M., Woodroffe, R., Murugi, L., Fèvre, E.M., Murray, S. and Martins, D.J. 2020. Volunteer based approach to dog vaccination campaigns to eliminate human rabies: Lessons from Laikipia County, Kenya. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases 14(7): e0008260. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/108692
  • Hu Suk Lee, Vuong Nghia Bui, Huyen Xuan Nguyen, Anh Ngoc Bui, Trung Duc Hoang, Hung Nguyen-Viet, Randolph, D.G. and Wieland, B. 2020. Seroprevalences of multi-pathogen and description of farm movement in pigs in two provinces in Vietnam. BMC Veterinary Research 16: 15. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/106618 
  • Kemboi, D.C., Antonissen, G., Ochieng, P.E., Croubels, S., Okoth, S., Kang’ethe, E.K., Faas, J., Lindahl, J.F. and Gathumbi, J.K. 2020. A review of the impact of mycotoxins on dairy cattle health: Challenges for food safety and dairy production in sub-Saharan Africa. Toxins 12(4): 222. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/108030
  • Kivali, V., Kiyong’a, A.N., Fyfe, J., Toye, P., Fèvre, E.M. and Cook, E.A.J. 2020. Spatial distribution of trypanosomes in cattle from western Kenya. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 7: 554. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/109133
  • Kiyong’a, A.N., Cook, E.A.J., Okba, N.M.A., Kivali, V., Reuksen, C., Haagmans, B.L. and Fèvre, E.M. 2020. Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) seropositive camel handlers in Kenya. Viruses 12(4): 396. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/107946
  • Long Pham-Thanh, Magnusson, U., Minh Can-Xuan, Hung Nguyen-Viet, Lundkvist, Å. and Lindahl, J. 2020. Livestock development in Hanoi city, Vietnam—Challenges and policies. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 7: 566. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/109404
  • Mitchell, M.E.V., Alders, R., Unger, F., Hung Nguyen-Viet, Trang Thi Huyen Le and Toribio, J.-A. 2020. The challenges of investigating antimicrobial resistance in Vietnam – what benefits does a One Health approach offer the animal and human health sectors? BMC Public Health 20: 213. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/107087 
  • Mutua, F., Sharma, G., Grace, D., Bandyopadhyay, S., Shome, B. and Lindahl, J. 2020. A review of animal health and drug use practices in India, and their possible link to antimicrobial resistance. Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control 9: 103. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/108734
  • Njenga, M.K., Ogolla, E., Thumbi, S.M., Ngere, I., Omulo, S., Muturi, M., Marwanga, D., Bitek, A., Bett, B., Widdowson, M.-A., Munyua, P. and Osoro, E.M. 2020. Comparison of knowledge, attitude, and practices of animal and human brucellosis between nomadic pastoralists and non-pastoralists in Kenya. BMC Public Health 20: 269. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/107419
  • Wernli, D., Jørgensen, P.S., Parmley, E.J., Troell, M., Majowicz, S., Harbarth, S., Léger, A., Lambraki, I., Graells, T., Henriksson, P.J.G., Carson, C., Cousins, M., Ståhlgren, G.S., Mohan, C.V., Simpson, A.J.H., Wieland, B., Pedersen, K., Schneider, A., Chandy, S.J., Wijayathilaka, T.P., Delamare-Deboutteville, J., Vila, J., Lundborg, C.S. and Pittet, D. 2020. Evidence for action: A One Health learning platform on interventions to tackle antimicrobial resistance. Lancet Infectious Diseases. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/109151

Infographic

  • Grace, D., Alonso, S., Mutua, F., Hoffmann, V., Lore, T. and Karugia, J. 2020. Food safety in Kenya: Focus on dairy. Infographic. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/109143

Presentations and posters

  • Diarra, S., Dione, M., Konkobo-Yameogo, C., Ilboudo, G., Roesel, K., Lallogo, V.R., Ouattara, L. and Knight-Jones, T. 2020. Value chain assessment of animal source foods and vegetables in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: Food safety, quality and hygiene perceptions and practices. Presentation at a project webinar, 20 May 2020. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/108633
  • Hung Nguyen-Viet, Unger, F., Hu Suk Lee, Lindahl, J., Thang Nguyen, Bett, B., Fèvre, E., Tum, S., Sinh Dang Xuan, Moodley, A. and Grace, D. 2020. One Health research at the International Livestock Research Institute to address neglected tropical diseases, zoonoses and emerging infectious diseases in Southeast Asia. Presentation at a webinar by the One Health Collaborating Center Universitas Gadjah Mada, ‘World Zoonoses Day 2020: Lessons learned and future directions’, 7 July 2020. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/108791
  • Lindahl, J., Mutua, F. and Grace, D. 2020. Livestock interventions in low-income countries: A theory of change for improved nutrition. Poster presentation at the virtual 2020 Agriculture, Nutrition and Health (ANH) Academy Week research conference, 30 June–2 July 2020. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/108715
  • Wieland, B., Moodley, A., Mbatidde, I., Ndoboli, D., Tenhagen, B.-A., Roesler, U., Erechu, R., Litta-Mulondo, A., Kakooza, S., Waiswa, J. and Kankya, C. 2020. Mitigating agriculture-associated antimicrobial resistance in poultry value chains in Uganda. Poster presented at the virtual annual planning meeting of the Boosting Uganda’s Investment in Livestock Development (BUILD) project, 10–12 June 2020. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/108689

Project report

  • Blackmore, E., Guarín, A., Alonso, S., Grace, D. and Vorley, B. 2020. Informal milk markets in Kenya, Tanzania and Assam (India): An overview of their status, policy context, and opportunities for policy innovation to improve health and safety. ILRI Research Report. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/109797

Research briefs

  • Lam, S., Huyen Thi Thu Nguyen, Hung Nguyen-Viet and Unger, F. 2020. Mapping pathways toward safer pork in Vietnam. ILRI Research Brief 95. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/108768
  • Nguyen Thi Thinh, Grace, D., Pham Van Hung, Le Thi Thanh Huyen, Hung Nguyen Viet, Sinh Dang-Xuan, Nguyen Thi Duong Nga, Nguyen Thanh Luong, Nguyen Thi Thu Huyen, Tran Thi Bich Ngoc, Pham Duc Phuc and Unger, F. 2020. Food safety performance in key pork value chains in Vietnam. ILRI Research Brief 94. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/108320
  • Pham Duc Phuc, Toribio, J.-A., Ngo Hoang Tuan Hai, Sinh Dang-Xuan, Nguyen Thanh Luong, Langley, S.J., Dunham, J.G., Dinh Thanh Thuy, Dang Vu Hoa, Hung Nguyen-Viet, Grace, D. and Unger, F. 2020. Food safety risk communication and training need of stakeholders and consumers regarding pork value chain in Vietnam. ILRI Research Brief 96. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/108769

Videos

Photo credit: International Open Access Week website

Milk cans at Ol Kalou Dairy Plant, Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

A new research report (Oct 2020) by scientists from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) reviews the status and policy contexts of informal milk markets in Kenya, Tanzania and Assam (India) to better understand the opportunities for a policy innovation based on training and certification to overcome market access barriers for sellers of informal milk by improving the health and safety practices of informal milk traders, thereby addressing policymakers’ concerns. It is based on an extensive review of available literature and a small number of expert interviews and contributions.

Citation

Blackmore, E., Guarín, A., Alonso, S., Grace, D. and Vorley, B. 2020. Informal milk markets in Kenya, Tanzania and Assam (India): An overview of their status, policy context, and opportunities for policy innovation to improve health and safety. ILRI Project Report. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI.

Photo credit: Milk cans at the Ol Kalou Dairy Plant, Kenya (ILRI/Paul Karaimu)

Locally made beef stew sold in Bagnon market at Yopougon, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (photo credit: ILRI/Valentin Bognan Koné).

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa launched its 2020 Africa Agriculture Status Report during the African Green Revolution Forum virtual summit hosted in Kigali, Rwanda on 8-11 September 2020.

This year’s report focuses on the challenges of feeding Africa’s cities and the opportunities available to smallholder farmers and agribusinesses to meet the needs of the continent’s fast growing urban food markets.

The report features a chapter on food safety and public health in urban food markets in Africa. Currently, Africa suffers from the highest per capita rate of foodborne illnesses in the world. The riskiest foods from a health perspective are animal-source foods, fruits and fresh vegetables. Consumption of these food products is rising rapidly in African cities.

Improving food safety in Africa’s urban food markets — both the dominant informal markets and the growing formal markets — will go a long way to safeguard the health of consumers and reduce the economic and health burden of foodborne illnesses.

Interventions include improving domestic market infrastructure, training of food handlers and increasing awareness of the shared responsibility of regulators and value chain actors to provide safe food.

Unsafe food directly undermines human health and jeopardises the attainment of national, continental and global development goals. For this reason, African governments urgently need to prioritize food safety and adopt policies and strategies that will ensure the delivery of adequate and safe food to urban markets.

Citation
Kang’ethe, E., Grace, D., Alonso, S., Lindahl, J., Mutua, F. and Haggblade, S. 2020. Food safety and public health implications of growing urban food markets. IN: AGRA, Africa Agriculture Status Report. Feeding Africa’s cities: Opportunities, challenges, and policies for linking African farmers with growing urban food markets. Issue 8. Nairobi, Kenya: Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). pp. 101–119.

Photo credit: Locally made beef stew sold in Bagnon market at Yopougon, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (ILRI/Valentin Bognan Koné)

Roadside market. Mozambique, Angonia province (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

As the impacts of COVID-19 spread across the globe, the virus threatens more than health systems worldwide. It also poses serious risks to food security, local businesses, national economies and hard-fought progress by stakeholders at all levels towards the Sustainable Development Goals. The global response to the pandemic must be swift and science-based, harnessing knowledge for emergency response, recovery and resilience.

Research leaders in health and agriculture have launched a new COVID-19 Hub to consolidate existing scientific evidence and help support response, recovery and resilience measures in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. As United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned recently, immediate action on food systems is needed to prevent a global food emergency that could have long-term health effects.

The CGIAR COVID-19 Hub, coordinated by CGIAR, the world’s largest publicly funded agricultural research network, brings together the latest science on agriculture and health to inform a research-based response to the pandemic.

The International Livestock Research Institute joins the International Food Policy Research Institute, the CGIAR System Organization and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine as co-implementers of the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub.

Hosted by the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, the Hub provides a coordinated research response to the pandemic, convening researchers, funders and key stakeholders.

It focuses on supporting national response and recovery work across CGIAR research themes through the response, recovery and resilience phases of the pandemic, with work from across CGIAR’s global network of 14 research centres and 15 research programs and platforms, in close collaboration with other research organizations, policymakers, non-governmental organizations and many other stakeholders.

Photo credit: Fresh produce on sale at a roadside market in Angonia Province, Mozambique (ILRI/Stevie Mann)

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.

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

World Food Safety Day 2020 poster

To mark the second World Food Safety Day that will be celebrated on 7 June 2020, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has launched an online food safety campaign and landing page at https://www.ilri.org/world-food-safety-day-2020

The campaign draws attention to ILRI’s long-standing collaborative research on risk-based approaches to improving food safety in informal markets. 

On the landing page you will find a set of key messages on food safety in informal markets as well as links to news, projects, publications, photos and videos on food safety. You will also be able to read the profiles of some of the ILRI experts involved in food safety research. 

Also featured on the page are the voices of some of our partners who share in the mission of working to ensure that the food we buy and eat is safe. 

Remember: there is no food security without food safety and if it is not safe, it is not food!

Join the online conversations by following the hashtags #FoodSafety, #SafeFood and #WorldFoodSafetyDay.

Photo credit: World Health Organization

A4NH 2019 annual report cover

The CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) has just released its 2019 annual report, highlighting activities and accomplishments from its five research flagships, cross-cutting work on gender and equity, and partnerships that have led to research outcomes in over 20 countries.

These include:

  • empowering stakeholders at national level to build food systems that support healthier diets;
  • generating research evidence on the nutritional and health benefits of biofortification;
  • supporting international developments in food safety with quality research and engagement;
  • engaging in global conversations on food systems, nutrition and diets; and
  • linking research and policy to achieve results on critical zoonotic diseases.

Access the A4NH 2019 annual report or read the interactive online summary.

Photo credit: International Food Policy Research Institute

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