The World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional director for Africa has called for smarter investment and design of supply chains with a focus on food safety.

Matshidiso Moeti said all parts of the supply chain, from farmers, to vendors and consumers have a role in ensuring food is safe. He said this is even more important because of border closures and food chain disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2015, figures were published on foodborne infections and the WHO African Region was estimated to have the highest burden of foodborne diseases per population. Each year, 91 million people in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from acute foodborne illness and 137,000 die.

Improved areas and topics that need addressing
“For most people in Africa, traditional food markets are part of daily life. However, in many markets, regulation for food handling and to prevent cross-contamination, has not kept pace with population needs,” said Moeti in a speech for World Food Safety Day on June 7.

“Another issue is food spoilage between farms and markets – it is estimated that post-harvest spoilage could feed up to 48 million people every year in sub-Saharan Africa. Countries are taking steps toward ensuring a better supply of safe food. For instance, Benin and the Gambia have established dedicated food safety authorities and set-up coordination mechanisms for multi-sectoral action.”

Moeti said the WHO is working with the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to strengthen national rapid alert networks and to help countries prevent, detect and respond to foodborne illness.

“There are many challenges in producing, processing and distributing safe, sufficient and nutritious foods and these challenges require a whole-of-society response. In addition, to stop the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases, foods should be handled and sold in environments that facilitate physical distancing and good hand hygiene,” Moeti said.

She urged governments to work across sectors to ensure food safety, and continuity of supply chains, including export certification and import control, as essential services.

“Regulatory authorities play critical roles in food safety assurance and supporting markets to restructure and innovate towards safer environments. The food processing industry also needs to ensure workers are protected from COVID-19 through preventive measures and systems for early detection, isolation and care for workers who may fall ill.”

55 million are food insecure
Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO assistant Director-General and regional representative for the Near East and North Africa and Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean Region, said food safety is a responsibility shared between governments, producers and consumers.

“Food security is achieved when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to food that meets their dietary needs for an active and healthy life. But today, around 55 million people in the Arab States are food insecure,” said the regional directors of FAO and WHO in a joint statement.

“Ultimately, safe food is critical not only for better health and food security, but also for livelihoods, economic development, trade and the international reputation of every country in the region. Foodborne diseases impede socioeconomic development by straining health care systems and harming national economies, tourism and trade.”

The duo said governments must ensure safe food, producers need to adopt good practices, businesses must make sure food is safely transported, stored and prepared, and consumers need information about their food choices.

The FAO and the WHO are assisting countries in the region to prevent, manage and respond to risks along the supply chain, working with producers and vendors, regulatory authorities and civil society stakeholders on domestically produced and imported food.

UNIDO project
A project of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) supported World Food Safety Day in Kenya.

The Market Access Upgrade Program (MARKUP) activities included a live TV forum to discuss food safety hazards, the role of partners in food safety systems, and impact of COVID-19 on food supply and control systems in Kenya. The €3.7 million (U.S. $4.2 million) project is scheduled to run for four years.

MARKUP aims to improve competitiveness of small-scale farmers in 12 counties of Kenya by enhancing quality and safety standards in crop value chains, including mango, passion fruit, avocado, tea, coffee, horticulture, herbs and spices, tea and nuts leading to increases in quality and volume of produce.

It is designed to promote good agricultural practices and compliance requirements for better market access and build capacity of the inspection, testing and certification systems to address gaps along the supply chain of these products. The main issues are levels of pesticide residues above legal limits, poor hygiene and harmful organisms on produce.

Kenya’s horticulture is mainly sent to the European Union with 45 percent of the country’s exports going there. The MARKUP Program is a €35 million (U.S. $40 million) initiative funded by the EU and also assists small and medium-sized enterprises in Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

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