Guidelines to support African governments in improving food safety across the informal sector are to be developed.

The African Union (AU) and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are designing a framework for a continent-wide approach to engaging with the informal food sector. 

Guidance seeks to reflect the realities of African food systems and improve the ways in which governments work with the informal sector in their efforts to boost the safety of foods.

The African Union and ILRI will consult with the informal sector to help refine the guidelines from June 10. This process with member states will continue in 2024 and 2025 before the framework is presented to the African Union policy bodies for approval in 2025.

Attention on the issue
Earlier this year the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene sent draft guidelines for food hygiene control measures in traditional food markets to the Codex Alimentarius Commission for adoption and the World Health Organization (WHO) has produced several documents on safer traditional food markets.

According to ILRI, Codex Alimentarius focal points from African countries will be invited to participate in the consultations over the next year, to help ensure alignment.

Past analysis has found some 90 million Africans become sick from foodborne illness every year, costing an estimated $16 billion in productivity losses. The international community invests just $55 million per year in food safety projects on the continent, according to a 2019 Global Food Safety Partnership report.

While compliance with food safety standards has improved in Africa’s exported goods, progress has been limited in the domestic informal sector, which is typically fragmented and under-resourced.

A roadmap to inspire
Guidelines are currently framed around three main principles of engagement: recognition of, engagement with, and investments in the informal sector.

“Western approaches to improving food safety, which include compliance with strict requirements and involve complex documentation processes, are really only suited to the formal sector, which is regularized and has sufficient financial resources. The reality is most African consumers buy food from the informal sector, which requires different approaches for food safety management,” said Silvia Alonso, senior scientist epidemiologist at ILRI.

“We acknowledge that the ultimate solutions will have to be tailor made to the national or local reality. The guidelines offer a roadmap to inspire countries, and to suggest the areas of effort that are required to have a successful engagement with the informal sector towards improved food safety. They will also include, when available, examples of initiatives that have been implemented and that have shown success toward these objectives.”

The draft guidelines have been developed following the African Union’s Food Safety Strategy for Africa, published in 2021 to encourage improvements in food safety management. They are informed by ILRI’s research and work for improved food safety across Africa. 

John Oppong-Otoo, food safety officer, African Union International Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), said: “We believe these new guidelines will provide realistic and practical guidance to help governments work with the informal sector and gradually transform it to safely and sustainably sustain the population.”

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