How to reduce high cost of food-borne illness in Africa

A majority of donor-funded food safety initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa have been focusing more on food safety for exports, rather than domestic consumption.

While exports are crucial for economies, the African continent suffers the world’s worst levels of food safety, which leads to an estimated human capital loss of $16.7 billion a year in Africa, a new report from the Global Food Safety Partnership has found.

The report was launched ahead of the first International Food Safety Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It highlighted the need for more targeted investment to promote food safety at a domestic level across Africa, after analysing over 500 projects and activities in sub-Saharan Africa since 2010.

The Partnership called for more investment into programs focusing on public health after finding that less than five percent of donor investments addressed specific health risks, such as Salmonella and E.coli, that local consumers face when purchasing from informal food markets. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), food-borne diseases have a global public health burden similar to malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis and claim an estimated 137,000 lives a year in Africa.

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“The future of the food system is critical to the long-term well-being of Africa and its people. For the global food system to be a successful provider, the food must be safe for everyone,” said Juergen Voegele, Senior Director for Food and Agriculture Global Practice at the World Bank, which hosts the Global Food Safety Partnership.

“With growing populations and changing diets, now is the time to take stock of the current food safety landscape in Africa and engage in new efforts to address old challenges.

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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.”

Food safety is key to the success of Africa’s agriculture-led development strategies, with most smallholder farmers growing crops and livestock for household consumption and also to sell to local markets to generate income.

“The development community is beginning to accept that there will be no food security and achievement of development goals, without food safety,” said Louise Scura, Chair of the Global Food Safety Partnership governing committee.

“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, a sharper focus on the need to alleviate the public health burden of food-borne diseases in sub-Saharan Africa.”

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The report recommended an investment in public health-focused programs with an emphasis on raising awareness and empowering African consumers to demand higher food safety standards. This included efforts to better inform the public about food safety issues so that the demand for safe food drives market incentives for higher standards.

 

The three recommendations included:

  1. Addressing the health of domestic consumers dependent on informal markets
  2. Building capacity for well-governed, evidence and risk-based food safety systems
  3. Harnessing today’s marketplace drivers of progress on food safety.

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