Attendees of IFC’s first virtual food safety event have heard how Africa is tackling the issue of safe food domestically.

The 9th International Finance Corporation (IFC) International Food Safety Forum covered domestic and trade issues, as well as food safety culture over two days in May and is still available to watch. IFC is part of the World Bank Group.

In her opening comments, Jumoke Jagun-Dokunmu, IFC’s regional director for Eastern Africa, said discussions will cover the potential for increased investment that can unlock business opportunities while increasing food safety for people across the continent.

“We believe that improved food safety is helping clients meet regional and export market requirements, attract investment, realize cost savings and strengthen their brands. So far, IFC’s food safety advisory program has helped over 200 clients attract $607 million in investment and generate $709 million in new sales,” she said.

“We’d like to see a greater emphasis placed on public private partnerships and the support both sectors can provide on food safety and food security. On the public sector side, how do we encourage policymakers to strengthen national systems by enhancing food safety standards and control arrangements? For the private sector, how do we collaborate and take forward lessons learned so we do not repeat them and others in the industry learn from us as well?”

A 2018 study found the economic losses from unsafe food in low- and middle-income countries is about $110 billion every year in terms of lost productivity and medical expenses.

Keith Hansen, World Bank country director for Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, and Uganda, said in Kenya, the estimated annual cost of unsafe food is about $800 million or nearly 1 percent of the country’s GDP.

“One of the key problems that Kenya is currently facing is aflatoxins and other mycotoxin contamination in both unprocessed and processed food. The prevalence of aflatoxins in maize is a particular concern as maize is not only a staple food for most Kenyans but also a key ingredient in animal feed which has a direct negative impact on meat, milk and egg intake. Clearly a way forward on tackling this issue is going to be critical,” he said.

“Although the safety of food is a classic public good, governments cannot and do not have the primary responsibility for safe food, rather it needs to become a shared responsibility between the public and private sector and citizens. Governments do have a crucial convening role to play and to apply minimum food safety standards, to provide food business operators with some degree of flexibility in how they attain those standards and to offer information and support to assist compliance.”

Free trade agreement potential
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will link 55 countries with 1.3 billion people and a combined potential GDP of $3.4 trillion. The African Union is holding an online meeting from June 8 to 11 to work on a draft African Food Safety Strategy.

Panellists talking about the AfCFTA

In a panel debate, Godfrey Bahiigwa, from the African Union Commission, said the continent had seen import bans because of food safety concerns.

“Most recently aflatoxin contamination in the maize value chain in the East African region. We also saw a similar incident in Southern Africa in the avocado trade. If we don’t invest in improving food safety standards and enforcing regulations across the different value chains this may undermine the expected benefits of AfCFTA,” he said.

“We believe improved food safety across Africa will support improved trade across the borders in fresh and processed foods, and with that comes improved food security because then you have more supply and increased incomes for farmers and other players across the value chain.”

Pamela Byrne, CEO at the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, said it sees itself as protecting consumers domestically and those in the 180 markets that Ireland trades with as it exports 80 to 90 percent of what it produces.

“Food safety is never done, when you’ve built the system you need to evaluate, monitor and look for opportunities for improvement and it is by improving that you build that trust across the market,” Byrne said.

Martha Byanyima, from Land O’ Lakes Venture37, said the biggest challenge for the trade agreement was implementation.

“If you look at the trade dispute between Kenya and Zambia, it was about using different standards, it was never about what is the science, data and evidence behind the decision to restrict trade in UHT milk,” she said.

“The other challenge is there has been a lot of investment going into laboratories as hard infrastructure but the labs are supposed to generate data and evidence that can inform regulatory systems and decisions but if you don’t have this data on which to underpin your decisions the labs become huge elephants consuming public resources but not necessarily facilitating trade.

“The African Union had a brilliant idea of a continental food safety authority but to instill science and rules lets have centers of excellence at sub-regional level to resolve disputes when they arise during implementation of the free trade agreement.”

Two tier system challenge
When closing the event, Prasad Gopalan, global head of Agribusiness at IFC, said it helps provide safer food for Africans but the stakes are high.

“Africans suffer the highest burden of foodborne diseases worldwide with an estimated 137,000 deaths and over 91 million illnesses annually. This has huge ramifications on Africa’s economy with estimated losses of $16 billion in annual productivity, this is why food safety is such a priority for IFC,” he said.

“We’ve discussed the AfCTA and its implications for food safety and trade, the influence on national standards and how countries can take advantage of the free trade region. Our panelists have shared views on the 2 tier system, with high quality safe food being exported to higher value developed markets and domestic companies held to a lower standard. What we have heard can help smaller suppliers put in place the food safety systems that are needed to move into bigger markets.”

The AfCTA is expected to increase inter-Africa trade in agriculture and this will require more effective implementation of good food safety procedures across the supply chain, said Gopalan.

“One thing that has come out of these discussions is that driving change in domestic markets will also improve companies’ export opportunities. The message is very clear: we need to encourage domestic participation in elevating the importance of food safety,” Gopalan said.

“Another important point is the link between food safety and nutrition. Raising standards is an important part of providing nutritious foods to the most vulnerable populations. Food safety is a very complex issue and companies must approach culture in bitesize steps. Think big but recognize it is a step process to reach these global standards.”

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