An index to help tackle the burden of foodborne diseases in Africa launched this week.

The African Food Safety Index (AFSI) was unveiled by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), with the African Union Commission, CGIAR A4NH, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., and the World Health Organization.

It will provide data necessary for African countries to prioritize food safety, reduce foodborne illnesses and improve trade and income. The index will be embedded by all 55 African Union countries into the Malabo Declaration biennial review. AFSI will be pilot-tested in three countries in Africa and findings will be validated with stakeholders to refine the index.

CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states and the European Union with the latter providing funding.

The institution said food safety tracking and country level efforts to meet benchmarks are expected to have a domino effect on the prioritization of food safety and policy making. This is expected to lead to improvements in food safety management, enhance food security and nutrition, reduce the burden of foodborne illnesses, and enhance access to markets and overall development.

“In our pursuit of higher, more sustainable and nutritious food production in Africa we must not lose sight of the importance of food safety and not just for reasons of health. If smallholder farmers cannot connect to expanded market opportunities, including exports, they will never be able to escape the cycle of poverty,” said Michael Hailu, CTA director.

According to the WHO, 91 million people in Africa fall ill each year due to foodborne diseases. Of those, 137,000 die, many of whom are children and other vulnerable groups. Food safety in Africa was recently discussed at an event in Brussels that CTA helped organize.

Food safety has become an important precondition to access global markets and increasingly, for high-value domestic markets in developing countries. One aim is to reduce trade rejections of African food products.

CTA said no studies have been done on specific impacts on national economies but evidence indicates a high burden on trade and health amounting to hundreds of millions of euros. A food safety hazard such as aflatoxin contamination is estimated to cause annual losses of more than €600 million ($690 million) in lost export trade of Africa.

“Without access to safe food, consumers are denied access to adequate food, nutrition or health and the Malabo Declaration Commitments 3, 4, and 5 on ending hunger, poverty reduction (raising incomes), and tripling intra-African trade in agricultural commodities, will not be achieved,” said Amare Ayalew, program manager at Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa.

Policymakers will be educated about food safety challenges and links between these and other areas such as the economy, health and gender equality. The project will establish a Food Safety Experts Network to provide data collection and reports training to local experts in African Union countries.

Previous CTA work has cited concern over health risks associated with imported food products that have prompted revisions in sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards in industrialized countries. In 2012, EU imports of Sub Saharan African (SSA) commodities that may be affected by standards compliance was €7.9 billion, according to the report.

AFSI is part of a wider project from August 2018 to December 2019 that includes compiling background information on foodborne diseases in Africa and categorizing priorities according to different types of climate sensitivity, relevance to private sector exporters, and the different impacts on men and women.

A digital reporting system and platform will be developed to compile and analyze collected data, identify trends and have links to other open access databases.

Expected results include at least 20 countries submitting reports on the food safety index to the second Malabo Biennial Review in October 2019 and at least 25 member states developing plans to increase investment in food safety.

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