Food safety: Aligning Africa’s regulations with global markets

Poor food safety regulations hamper Africa’s ability to engage in international food markets. But harmonised regulations, tailored infrastructure and increased public and private sector investment have been identified as interventions that could bolster the continent’s food safety capacity, and ignite its food export market.

To connect African smallholders to international markets, food safety regulation must be improved across the entire value chain © USAID/Morgana Wingard

Despite the economic importance of agriculture in Africa, food commodities account for only 4% of the continent’s total exports – a predicament that is partly explained by its poor food safety record. To boost the competitive edge of agriculture in ACP countries in order to enhance regional and global trade, it is essential to align food quality standards with the rest of the world, while improving the efficiency of value chains.

“In our pursuit of higher, more sustainable and nutritious food production in Africa, we must not lose sight of the importance of food safety and not just for health reasons,” warned Michael Hailu, CTA Director, at the launch of the new Africa Food Safety Index (AFSI) on 2 October 2018 in Senegal. “If smallholder farmers cannot connect to expanded market opportunities, including exports, they will never be able to escape the cycle of poverty.” CTA has partnered with the African Union (AU), CGIAR, FAO and World Health Organization to launch the AFSI with the aim of providing the evidence necessary for African countries to prioritise food safety, reduce foodborne illnesses and improve trade and income.

President of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, warned in 2017 that Africa’s annual food import bill – already worth US$35 billion (€30 billion) –  was estimated to rise to US$110 billion (€95 billion) by 2025. The cost is substantial considering that losses due to aflatox in contamination alone currently amount to over €750 million per year according to the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa. Moreover, the Africa Agriculture Trade Monitor (see Spore article, Levelling Africa’s trade imbalance) recently reported that a lack of compliance with EU standards resulted in trade losses for sub-Saharan Africa worth €7.9 billion in 2012.

Harmonising and strengthening regulations

In this context, appropriate capacity to meet food safety standards is needed. The Global Food Safety Partnership have published a report entitled Food Safety in Africa: Past Endeavors and Future Directions presented at the most recent CTA Brussels Briefing, which maps and analyses critically the institutions, initiatives and resources devoted to food safety capacity building in sub-Saharan Africa. The data is designed to provide a basis for countries and regional organisations to streamline and strengthen their food safety regulations and initiatives in order to meet the increasing demand from consumers for safer food.

Isolina Boto, Manager of the CTA Brussels Office and Coordinator of the Brussels Briefings, outlined a number of key points on food safety that emerged from the Briefings meeting – highlighting in particular the need for research data to support policymaking, and the importance of partnerships between donors and other stakeholders for scaling good practices. Boto also insisted that the distinction between regional and international markets is not a crucial one, since many businesses serve both markets, and all consumers require access to healthy food.

All actors impacted

Food safety affects all actors across the value chain, including smallholder farmers who generally deal with informal markets –  where health inspection equipment is usually lacking –  and sufficient resources to boost awareness on good practices. “Smallholder farmers are not organised in any way, so what we have been doing is ensuring we aggregate these farmers into production and marketing units,” explains Elisabeth Nsimadala, president of the Eastern Africa Farmers' Federation (EAFF). The e-Granary platform, which can be accessed via smartphones, is used by EAFF to organise farmers and provide them with up-to-date market information and agricultural advice. This enables EAFF to more readily disseminate technology and practices to help improve the safety of the food produced by over 100,000 members. Nsimadala also highlighted a number of critical factors in achieving food safety, including equipping farmers with suitable tools, setting up an appropriate legislative framework, improving infrastructure, including roads and storage centres, and promoting local technology.

Kelley Cormier, division chief for USAID’s Bureau for Food Security, says that while technology is very important, farmers will not adopt it if there are no incentives to produce safe food. She adds that the food system in Africa is marked by, “low levels of public and private sector investment,” as well as “a confusing and costly food safety system.” To overcome these challenges USAID is striving to overcome these challenges by facilitating collaboration between different food safety stakeholders, promoting market expansion for safe products, encouraging formal sector leadership and capacity building, while facilitating the adoption of good food safety practices in the informal sector.

Africa’s regional economic communities must also be a driving force in the implementation of food safety standards, claims Chris Muyunda, chairman of the Governing Council of the CAADP Non-State Actors Coalition. To do so, states and their partners should “showcase farmers who comply with the standards (thus boosting awareness of good practices), conduct more food quality tests, promote local and regional certification, and support value chain actors with sufficient expertise to understand food quality and safety standards,”

Vincent Defait

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.