East Africa


Hundreds of trees have been felled along Nairobi’s Uhuru and Waiyaki highways to make space for a new expressway. CELINE CLERY/AFP via Getty Images

Eric Fèvre, University of Liverpool and James Hassell, Yale University

There’s been widespread concern in Kenya over the shrinking of green spaces in Nairobi, the capital city. Most recently, there was uproar over the construction of a raised highway. This resulted in the felling of hundreds of trees, though protests managed to save the life of one 100-year-old fig tree.

It was also proposed that part of the highway run through Uhuru park – one of the city’s few recreational parks. Protests successfully diverted the highway to the park’s outskirts, but development still threatens the city’s few undeveloped spaces.

To give an idea of how much green space has already been lost, between 1976 and 2000, Nairobi’s forest cover went from 14% to 3%. Bushland cover, over the same period, was also reduced from 22% to 13%.

This will have an impact on the city’s wildlife and livestock. Nairobi, like other urban environments in the tropics, has an ecosystem that includes wildlife – such as birds, rodents, primates – and livestock such as cattle, goats, sheep and pigs. As green spaces are lost, native wildlife and bird species can dwindle and non-native species proliferate.

But very few studies explore how development affects wildlife and livestock in tropical cities. Recognising this gap, we explored the impact of a growing and changing urban environment on the wildlife and livestock that live with people in Nairobi from 2013 to 2018.

We found that, as land use in Nairobi transformed, there have been significant changes.

Competition between invasive and endemic species has grown, to the detriment of native biodiversity. Species – many of which play important roles in ecosystems such as fruit bats, primates and pollinators – are lost. And as the ecological landscape becomes less diverse, wildlife species that co-exist with humans – such as rats, scavenging and seed-eating birds (collectively known as synanthropes) – thrive, particularly in the poorer, most densely populated areas of Nairobi.

This is troubling because evidence suggests that synanthropes host more germs and could pass diseases on to people and make them sick. These are called “zoonotic diseases” and range from minor short-term illness to major life-changing illness and even death.

We could not assess the risk posed by zoonoses in Nairobi in our study. What we do know is that the city (and likely most other biodiverse, tropical cities) harbours all the ingredients for zoonotic spillover to occur between animals and people, particularly in the most densely populated areas.

Urban development policymakers must recognise that by shrinking green spaces, they increase the likelihood that people will catch zoonotic diseases. This is because species such as rodents proliferate.

Which species dominate, and where

We studied 99 household compounds – people’s houses and private land – across the city. These were selected to represent the different ways in which people interact with livestock and wildlife across the city. Households were stratified by people’s wealth, the types of livestock they kept and the ecological habitats in which they live.

Our data show that synanthropic species – like rats and insectivorous bats – dominate lower income, densely populated areas of the city. Here the synanthropes live in close quarters with poultry, pigs and small ruminants, such as goats and sheep.

We found that the decline in biodiversity – and subsequent colonisation by synanthropes – was driven by urban development. Trees and other forms of vegetation were replaced by man-made structures, removing the natural resources that most wildlife require to survive. Meanwhile, the resources (such as waste) on which synanthropes thrive increased.

As we argue in our paper, this kind of restructuring has important implications for the emergence of novel diseases at urban interfaces, which is why we used our research results to generate a set of testable hypotheses that explore the influence of urban change on microbial communities.

By testing the hypotheses we provide insights into how rapid urbanisation can generate interfaces for pathogen emergence, which should be targeted for surveillance.

Research done elsewhere shows that synanthropes – which thrive in disturbed environments with lower biodiversity – host more pathogens. And synanthropes seek resources provided by humans and their livestock, such as waste, which brings them into closer contact and increases opportunities for pathogens to cross between them.

For instance, our work in Nairobi shows that, as densities of humans and livestock increase, there is more sharing of antimicrobial resistance with wild birds.

Policy recommendations

Our findings have important implications for the public health and the sustainable planning and management of cities, particularly rapidly developing, biodiverse cities.

The high levels of competent disease carriers near humans is a huge risk to public health. The current response to COVID-19 has shown that the ability to limit the spread of a disease depends upon good public health infrastructure. Developing this infrastructure, while more studies are conducted to assess the risk of zoonotic disease transmission, is crucial.

Mitigating steps can be taken. One would be to maintain areas of forests, grasslands and clean waterways throughout the city. This would preserve and increase the wildlife biodiversity that competes with synanthropes, while also improving biosecurity within households, which could help moderate the presence of synanthropic species in urban centres.

It is, however, worth noting that some synanthropes, like insectivorous bats, help to control mosquito populations and agricultural pests in heavily urbanised environments. Eradicating them would not be advisable. Managing people’s interactions with synanthropes through smart urban planning – for example by removing resources on which synanthropes rely such as manure and rubbish from households – is best.

Our findings also raise important concerns about the social equality of urban development. The benefits of urban biodiversity and risks posed by human exposure to animal-borne diseases are not equally distributed. Currently equitable access to green spaces is restricted in many cities due to socioeconomic barriers, such as land ownership, proximity or lack of transportation. Reconfiguring the distribution of green space from the peri-urban fringe of the city to densely populated areas would build a more equitable society, allowing more city dwellers to have access to recreational space.

David Aronson, Senior Communications Advisor with ILRI, and Timothy Offei-Addo, a Princeton-in-Africa fellow with ILRI, contributed to the writing of this article.

Eric Fèvre, Professor of Veterinary Infectious Diseases, University of Liverpool and International Livestock Research Institute, Kenya, University of Liverpool and James Hassell, Wildlife Veterinarian with Smithsonian’s Global Health Program, and adjunct Assistant Professor, Yale University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cattle and wildlife at the ILRI Kapiti Research Station (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu)

Developing risk maps for endemic livestock diseases is important for effective disease prevention and control, particularly in resource-limited countries.

For endemic and easily diagnosed diseases such as anthrax, a useful approach involves analysis and mapping of historical data to identify disease hotspots and define risk factors of its occurrence.

A new paper published in BMC Infectious Diseases (Feb 2021) presents the results of risk mapping of the 666 livestock anthrax events that occurred in Kenya between 1957 and 2017.

The mapping exercise found that there were about 10 anthrax events in Kenya annually, with the number increasing to as many as 50 events annually by 2005.

Mapping also revealed spatial clustering of the disease events in certain sub-counties; 12% of sub-counties were responsible for over 30% of anthrax events while 36% of sub-counties did not report any incidents of anthrax over the 60-year period under study.

Additionally, there was significantly greater risk of anthrax occurring in agro-alpine high- and medium-potential agro-ecological zones than in the arid and semi-arid regions of the country.

Cattle were over 10 times more likely to be infected by Bacillus anthracis (the bacterium that causes anthrax) than sheep, goats or camels.

There was lower risk of anthrax in August and December, months that follow the long and short rain periods, respectively.

By enabling analysis of the trends and patterns of occurrence of livestock anthrax across different regions over the years, the risk maps will be a useful tool for livestock health officials to identify and characterize Kenya’s anthrax hotspots, leading to better targeting of disease management interventions.

Citation
Nderitu, L.M., Gachohi, J., Otieno, F., Mogoa, E.G., Muturi, M., Mwatondo, A., Osoro, E.M., Ngere, I., Munyua, P.M., Oyas, H., Njagi, O., Lofgren, E., Marsh, T., Widdowson, M.-A., Bett, B. and Njenga, M.K. 2021. Spatial clustering of livestock anthrax events associated with agro-ecological zones in Kenya, 1957-2017. BMC Infectious Diseases 21(1): 191.

Photo credit: Cattle and wildlife at the ILRI Kapiti Research Station (ILRI/Paul Karaimu)

 A plate served with fried pork and raw relishes (photo credit: ILRI/Martin Heilmann)

A new study published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science (February 2021) has documented the governance structure of the Nairobi pork value chain and the challenges faced by traders and how these impact on food safety.

The pork food system in Nairobi is a growing livestock sub-sector which serves as a source of food and livelihood to the city’s inhabitants. To better understand how this food system works, the study mapped the key pork value chains, assessed their governance and operational challenges and analysed the potential impacts on food safety management.

A mixed-method approach was used to collect both qualitative and quantitative data on animal movements, product flows, stakeholder interactions, perceptions on system governance, operational challenges faced, business operations and market share.

A thematic analysis was also carried out to identify the themes that provide understanding on governance, challenges and food safety practices in the pork system.

The predominant pork value chains identified were the ‘large integrated company’ profile which accounted for 83.6% of marketed pork and the privately owned, small-scale local independent abattoirs accounting for 16.4%.

The study documented a number of challenges associated with governance of the pork value chains including inadequate enforcement of existing regulation, dominance of pig traders and lack of association at all nodes of the system.

The traders themselves were also beset by several challenges that could have a bearing on food safety management; these included inadequate slaughter facilities, lack of capital for upscaling, lack of training on slaughterhouse hygiene and lack of knowledge on how to manage pig diseases.

These findings provide useful insights into the structure of the pork system supplying the city of Nairobi. Policymakers and food safety researchers can use this framework to investigate and further develop the pork industry. The framework can also be used to develop appropriate programs for food safety and control of pig diseases.

The study is an output of a collaborative project on the epidemiology, ecology and socio-economics of disease emergence in Nairobi that was carried out by scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute, the Kenya Directorate of Veterinary Services, Royal College London, the University of Liverpool and the University of Nairobi.

Citation
Murungi, M.K., Muloi, D.M., Muinde, P., Githigia, S.M., Akoko, J., Fèvre, E.M., Rushton, J. and Alarcon, P. 2021. The Nairobi pork value chain: Mapping and assessment of governance, challenges, and food safety issues. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 8: 581376.

Photo credit: A plate served with fried pork and raw relishes (ILRI/Martin Heilmann)

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)

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)

A pastor and his dog, Yabello, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Camille Hanotte).

World Zoonoses Day is commemorated on 6 July every year to mark the day in 1885 when Louis Pasteur successfully administered the first vaccine against rabies, a deadly zoonotic disease. The day is also an occasion to raise awareness of the risk of zoonoses, infectious diseases that can be spread between animals and people.

On this year’s World Zoonoses Day, we highlight a new research study published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases (July 2020) that reports on the development, implementation and effectiveness of grassroots mass dog vaccination campaigns against rabies conducted in 2015, 2016 and 2017 in Laikipia County, Kenya.

According to the World Health Organization, rabies kills tens of thousands of people every year, mainly in Asia and Africa. Globally, rabies causes an estimated cost of US$ 8.6 billion per year. Dog bites are responsible for 99% of all cases of human rabies. Therefore, vaccinating dogs is the most cost-effective way to prevent rabies in people.

The research study found that while grassroots volunteer-based dog vaccination campaigns against rabies can be useful, these efforts need to be supported at a larger scale by county and national governments for a more sustainable approach towards eradicating the disease. Below is the author summary.

“Given the importance of mass vaccinations of domestic dogs towards eliminating human rabies in Africa and the site-specific challenges facing such campaigns, additional studies on the development and implementation of such efforts are needed.

One mechanism of mass vaccination lies in grassroots efforts that often begin at a very local scale and either develop into larger campaigns, remain local, or cease to persist past several years once interest and funding is exhausted.

Here, we discuss the development of a grassroots campaign in Laikipia County, Kenya from its local inception to its development into a county-wide rabies elimination effort.

Our results highlight challenges associated with achieving the targeted 70% coverage rate, including a need for consistent and systematic demographic monitoring of dog populations, limitations of the central point method, and logistical and financial challenges facing a volunteer-based effort.

Serious political commitment from both the local and national governments are necessary to take the budget beyond what a crowdfunded campaign can raise, including availability and access to quality dog rabies vaccines.

Without such outside support and substantial time to grow, grassroots campaigns might be better relegated to raising awareness and vaccinating dogs in small communities to protect those communities directly, without contributing to the broader ecosystem-wide transmission-stopping aim often sought by government human health and veterinary organizations.”

Citation

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.

Photo credit: A pastor and his dog, Yabello, Ethiopia (ILRI/Camille Hanotte)

Alpha chickens on a farm in Isiokpo, Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/ACGG Nigeria).

Poultry production is an important contributor to the livelihoods of rural populations, especially in low- and middle-income countries. As poultry production in these countries remains dominated by backyard systems with low inputs and low outputs, considerable yield gaps exist. 

Intensification of these backyard poultry farming systems can increase productivity, production and income. This process is relatively recent in low- and middle-income countries compared to high-income countries. The management practices and constraints that smallholder farmers face in scaling-up their production, in the early stages of intensification, are poorly understood and described. 

To shed more light on these aspects of intensification of poultry farming in low-income settings, a team of scientists investigated the features of the small-scale commercial chicken sector in a rural area distant from major production centres. Their study findings are published in the journal Animal (24 June 2020). 

The study surveyed 111 commercial chicken farms in Kenya in 2016. It targeted farms that sold most of their production, owning at least 50 chickens, partly or wholly confined and provided with feeds. 

The researchers developed a typology of semi-intensive farms. Farms were found mainly to raise dual-purpose chickens of local and improved breeds, in association with crops and were not specialized in any single product or market. 

The study identified four types of semi-intensive farms that were characterized based on two groups of variables related to intensification and accessibility: (1) remote, small-scale old farms, with small flocks, growing a lot of their own feed; (2) medium-scale, old farms with a larger flock and well located in relation to markets; (3) large-scale recently established farms, with large flocks, well located and buying chicks from third-party providers and (4) large-scale recently established farms, with large flocks, remotely located and hatching their own chicks. 

The semi-intensive farms surveyed were highly heterogeneous in terms of size, age, accessibility, management, opportunities and challenges. Farm location affects market access and influences the opportunities available to farmers, resulting in further diversity in farm profiles. 

The future of these semi-intensive farms could be compromised by several factors, including competition with large-scale intensive farmers and with importations. 

The study findings suggest that intensification trajectories in rural areas of low- and middle-income countries are potentially complex, diverse and non-linear. 

“A better understanding of intensification trajectories should, however, be based on longitudinal data,” the authors conclude, adding that such an approach could be useful to design interventions to support small-scale poultry farmers.

Citation

Chaiban, C., Robinson, T.P., Fèvre, E.M., Ogola, J., Akoko, J., Gilbert, M. and Vanwambeke, S.O. 2020. Early intensification of backyard poultry systems in the tropics: A case study. Animal. https://doi.org/10.1017/S175173112000110X

Photo credit: FUNAAB Alpha chickens on a farm in Isiokpo, Nigeria (ILRI/ACGG Nigeria)

Pastoralism

A gender-inclusive approach to community livestock vaccination can help address the different barriers faced by men and women farmers and may increase the uptake of livestock vaccines

Scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) recently published a study on the uptake of the Rift Valley fever vaccine in Kenya and Uganda, incorporating gender in their analysis to better understand the different barriers that men and women farmers face in adopting and using livestock vaccines.

The barriers include the cost of vaccines, long distances to vaccination points, lack of information on vaccination campaigns and decision-making processes at the household level. Understanding these barriers can help veterinary workers design more effective community livestock vaccination programs of benefit to both men and women farmers.

‘Conducting gender analysis on livestock vaccine interventions can enable implementers to identify generic and gender-specific needs of their target beneficiaries’, says Edna Mutua, the lead author of the study and gender consultant at ILRI.

‘This will allow the use of the findings to inform the design and delivery of vaccination interventions to increase efficiency and uptake’, she adds.

Rift Valley fever is a viral, mosquito-borne zoonotic disease that affects cattle, sheep, goats and camels. It causes abortions in livestock and flu-like illness in humans. People can get infected through contact with secretions or tissue of infected animals.

Rift Valley fever is endemic in East Africa and its impacts are significant. An outbreak of the disease in Kenya in 2006–07 caused 150 human deaths and led to losses of USD 32 million from livestock deaths, reduced animal productivity and trade bans on livestock and livestock products.

Vaccination of livestock is currently the most effective measure to control the disease. Previous research on Rift Valley fever vaccines have tended to focus on the production, safety and efficacy of the vaccines. Very few studies have been carried out on the uptake and adoption of livestock vaccines and most of these did not include gender in the study design and analysis but treated male and female livestock farmers as a homogeneous group.

This new ILRI-led study, published in the journal Vaccines (August 2019), provides useful insights into how prevailing gender dynamics in communities such as the division of roles and responsibilities in farmers’ households can influence the uptake and adoption of livestock vaccines.

Uptake was defined as the process the farmers take from when they receive livestock vaccination information to consenting to have their animals vaccinated and presenting the animals for vaccination. Adoption was defined as the continuous use of the vaccine when needed, even without the intervention of veterinary departments.

The study was carried out in Kwale and Murang’a counties in Kenya and Arua and Ibanda districts in Uganda. Data were collected through 58 focus group discussions (30 in Kenya and 28 in Uganda), with 8–12 discussants per group, selected based on whether or not livestock were vaccinated during recent outbreaks of Rift Valley fever.

To incorporate gender into the study design, in each country, half of the focus groups comprised men only and the other half women only. This gender disaggregation enabled the research team to collect data from the different gender groups across all four study locations.

The researchers found that men and women farmers faced different barriers in accessing and using livestock vaccines and that these constraints were influenced by socio-cultural and economic contexts and location.

For all focus groups across the four locations, the farmers ranked the top three barriers to the uptake of livestock vaccines as the cost of vaccines, limited access to information on vaccination and the side effects of the vaccines. However, including the gender and locational differences in the analysis brought forth a clearer picture of which group was most affected by which constraint.

Women in one region, for example, cited the cost of vaccines as the key challenge while women in another cited the limited information available on vaccination campaigns. In one region, the cultural dynamics around livestock ownership were paramount; in another, the long distances the women had to walk their animals to access the vaccination points was key.

The general lesson, however, was the same: ‘Provision of livestock vaccines by veterinary departments does not always guarantee uptake by men and women farmers’, lead author Edna Mutua notes.

Mutua is optimistic that veterinary authorities in Kenya and Uganda will use the research findings to design more effective community vaccination campaigns to prevent and control Rift Valley fever.

‘My hope is that this study serves as an eye-opener to veterinary departments in Kenya and Uganda on the need to integrate gender analysis into their livestock vaccine programs’, she says. ‘Optimizing vaccine uptake requires us to have a better understanding of the local contexts and constraints within which male and female farmers operate’.

This article by Tezira Lore was first published in the ILRI 2019 Annual Report.

Photo credit: A herder with his livestock in Isiolo County, Kenya (ILRI/Dorine Odongo)

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.

Photo credit: Farming scene in the highlands of Ethiopia (ILRI/Apollo Habtamu)

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)

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