A report from the Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP) highlighted the need for increased targeted funding to promote domestic food safety across Africa.

GFSP called for more investment into programs focusing on public health after finding less than 5 percent of donor investments addressed specific health risks such as Salmonella and E. coli that local consumers face when purchasing from informal food markets. GFSP found the rate of annual donor investment in food safety is four times lower than funding for malaria control, when considered in relation to magnitude of the health burden.

The report recommended an emphasis on raising awareness and helping African consumers to demand higher food safety standards. This included efforts to inform the public about food safety so demand for safe food drives market incentives for higher standards.

It was unveiled ahead of the first International Food Safety Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, next week hosted by the World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and African Union.

More than half of donor funded food safety initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa are focused on overseas markets with less than half on domestic consumers. An analysis of more than 500 projects and activities in the region since 2010 found most of the efforts dealt with food safety for exports. These projects were sponsored by 31 bilateral and multilateral agencies, development banks, and foundations.

Currently focus is on meeting the demands of formal and overseas markets but comparatively little effort goes into reducing the burden of illness for African consumers, most who get at least some of their food through local wet markets, street vendors and other informal markets.

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In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that Africans suffer 137,000 deaths and 91 million acute illnesses annually from foodborne hazards. The African region has the world’s highest per capita incidence of foodborne illness. The heaviest burden falls on children younger than 5 years old.

Juergen Voegele, senior director for food and agriculture global practice at the World Bank, which hosts the GFSP, said the future of the food system is critical to the long-term well being of Africa and its people.

“With growing populations and changing diets, now is the time to take stock of the current food safety landscape in Africa and for new efforts to address old challenges. It is time to examine what the international donor community is doing to help address these challenges, and how donors, governments, the private sector and consumers can work together to strengthen Africa’s food safety system.”

The annual human capital or productivity loss associated with foodborne illness in sub-Saharan Africa is about U.S. $16.7 billion, which is more than 300 times greater than the estimated annual $55 million donor investment in food safety projects, according to the report.

Microbiological hazards such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites are responsible for about 70 percent of the known foodborne disease burden. Salmonella is estimated to have the highest mortality rate, causing about one-third of all deaths in Africa linked to foodborne hazards – 32,000 annually.

Parasitic hazards contribute about 17 percent of the burden. Taenia solium, the pork tapeworm, infects millions of Africans with Ascaris spp. and the protozoa Cryptosporidium spp. and Toxoplasma gondii also significant. Aflatoxin affecting staple crops such as cereals and groundnuts, insufficiently processed cassava with high levels of naturally occurring cyanide, and industrial chemicals in food are other areas of concern.

The authors described four things affecting food safety in the region including environmental factors, food markets, physical infrastructure and governance.

The first point covers environmental conditions such as moisture, temperature, bacterial or viral hazards; food systems and markets refers to street vendors, national and international trade; the third details  clean water, electricity, transport, and safe storage and the final one includes food safety agencies and regulatory standards.

Louise Scura, chair of the GFSP governing committee, said the development community is beginning to accept there will be no food security and achievement of development goals without food safety.

“Our hope is that this report will result in greater prioritization of investments in food safety for African consumers, greater alignment of the development community’s support to food safety, and sharper focus on the need to alleviate the public health burden of foodborne disease in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Donor-funded food safety projects between 2010 and 2017 were concentrated in 10 countries in East and West Africa and less than three percent addressed the informal markets used by most consumers. Much of the donor investment involves activities not linked to health outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa.

Aflatoxin and pesticide residues receive significant, targeted investment, with at least $137 million invested in aflatoxin control and 14 percent of all projects on pesticide controls.

The European Commission, United States, FAO and WHO were the top public funders of food safety in the region from 2010 to 2017, accounting for 78 percent of 360 food-safety projects and activities and 70 percent of all projects in the database. The largest private funder of work with a primary focus on food safety was the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which invested $37 million in aflatoxin projects.

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