Advancing Food Safety in Africa: Opportunities and Action Areas
This post was written by Lee Gross, an international program specialist at the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.The following is a summary of policy recommendations made by African Food Safety experts following a scoping mission conducted by USDA in 2019 and does not necessarily represent USG positions.
There is a need for African agriculture to undergo a systemic transformation to meet rising food demands, while at the same time addressing the public health burden of foodborne illness among the most vulnerable populations.
The continent of Africa is experiencing rapid expansion of the agrifood market fueled by high population growth, rapid urbanization and income growth. For example:
- Intra-African food demand is projected to increase by 178% by 2050.
- Africa’s net food import bill is currently over USD $35 billion a year and is projected to reach USD $110 billion by 2025.
- African diets are changing with more demand for processed products and meats as a complement to traditional staple crops such as maize, sorghum, cassava and pulses.
However, future development of food systems must be accompanied by cross-sectoral and intergovernmental efforts to reduce the foodborne disease burden. Consider:
- Africa has the world’s highest per capita incidences of foodborne illness, claiming 137,000 lives a year and causing 91 million cases of sickness, according to the World Health Organization.
- Foodborne illness presents significant constraints to low-and middle-income countries, costing them $110 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses each year.
In 2019, an expert team led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in partnership with the African Union (AU) consulted with food safety experts representing a number of African countries and Regional Economic Communities to define and understand challenges, capacity building efforts, opportunities, and priority action areas to improve food safety across the continent.
Here is what they told us.
Unfortunately, the list of food safety related challenges is long, from inadequate lab testing capacity to identify food safety risks; to low levels of investment and compliance with international standards and weak monitoring and enforcement of such regulations by governments; a lack of sufficient incentives for the private sector to engage in formal trade, and lots of informal, unregulated trade in local markets with poor infrastructure.
However, a lot of significant food safety capacity building work has been underway in recent years…
From the AU-based Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) program, which pioneered a model for developing science-based, integrated strategies to address high priority food safety challenges such as aflatoxin; to the efforts of Regional Economic Communities to harmonize food safety guidelines across their Member States; to individual African nations’ efforts to strengthen their own sanitary standards and enforcement processes and boost participation in Codex Alimentarius. Moreover, the first-ever international food safety conference hosted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in March 2019 galvanized the attention of world leaders about the role of food safety in achieving major development goals.
- The Malabo Declaration by African leaders set the goal of tripling trade in agricultural products over the next decade. As of the latest bi-annual report of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), food safety indicators were included. This was an important achievement and one that should continue. Countries must take stock and report on their progress to improve their national food control systems alongside improvements in agricultural production. Linking food safety with agricultural development is integral to investment by African nations.
- The newly ratified African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) that goes into force later this year is expected to boost intraregional trade of agrifood products by almost 70% among 54 countries to create the largest free trading block in the world. This presents an enormous opportunity for Africa’s development. As part of this agreement, countries must work to harmonize their sanitary and phytosanitary regulations in line with international science-based standards. These harmonized standards will enhance agricultural trade opportunities both regionally and with countries internationally such as the United States.
- In October 2019, the African Union (AU) adopted a sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) policy framework for Africa. The framework will serve as an instrument to help AU Member States harmonize and strengthen their SPS measures within the AfCFTA. The framework includes an action plan with clear roles and responsibilities, resource mobilization, monitoring and evaluation and reporting to ensure that trade and rural development objectives are realized.
In light of these opportunities, experts from our study identified the following actions areas for advancing food safety in Africa:
- Sustain political will to modernize legislative and governance framework for Africa’s food safety systems. The political momentum in food safety must continue at the highest levels across the continent. Engaging heads of state and other decision makers will ensure that policy objectives and resources are invested to modernize food control systems.
- Enhance the performance of food control systems in Africa through evidence-based decision making. Integrated data collection platforms are needed for scientific assessment of hazards and risk-based prioritization of food safety program and policy interventions. With limited resources, investments should be made based on risk-reduction potential.
- Ensure international representation and advocacy for African food safety. Continued participation is needed by African countries in international forums, including Codex Alimentarius and the United Nations to guide food safety investments.
- Elevate consumer and industry awareness of food safety to generate demand for both legislative and governance reform as well as private sector investment. There is a need to foster communication throughout the food system in African countries, including with consumers, to raise awareness of problems and solutions. Consumers should be educated and empowered to make the right food choices and demand safer food from the private sector and government. The private sector should have financial incentives to invest in food safety infrastructure.
- Harmonize standards and improve border systems to facilitate trade in safe food. The harmonization of regulations and equivalence of standards between countries, will be essential to fair and equitable trade of safe food products. This requires increased coordination among African countries.
This blog post was prepared by the Food Safety Network, an interagency partnership mechanism of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, United States Agency for International Development and U.S. Food and Drug Administration to support food safety capacity building worldwide.