FAO Regional Office for Africa

Adopting international food standards vital for Southern Africa

Safeguarding health, boosting trade

Swaziland’s Eswatini Kitchen factory, ensures their products meet international standards to boost trade. ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

3 March 2016, Victoria Falls – International food standards are pivotal in enhancing commercialisation of agriculture and improving a country’s food exports. A country can boost the growth of the agro-processing sector by formulating policies that ensure adherence to international food standards. Additionally, effective food safety and quality management systems are essential not only for safeguarding the health and well-being of people but also for fostering economic development and improving livelihoods.

Representatives from Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe met in Victoria Falls (29 February – 1 March), to share country experiences and look at ways of enhancing policy formulation and adherence to international food standards. Through an FAO funded project, the Institutions’ capacities in the three countries have been developed over a one year period, to assist the three SADC countries make better use Codex standards to increase inter-regional trade and safeguard the health of their populations.

Deputy Minister of Health and Childcare for the host country, Aldrin Musiiwa, said there was raised awareness on food safety issues among major stakeholders including government departments, small to medium scale enterprises, development partners and the private sector because of the training undertaken under the capacity building initiative. He added that they would make available resources to maintain and improve the efforts that were initiated to strengthen food control activities through the implementation of Codex standards and guidelines.

Intra-regional trade still too low

Representing FAO, David Mfote, said active membership to Codex assists countries to compete in sophisticated world markets while at the same time improving the food safety for its population. Mfote added that Regional Economic Communities including COMESA and SADC had been mandated to contribute to the African Union integration agenda by creating an enabling environment to facilitate intra-regional trade. Intra-regional trade is estimated to be at 12 percent.

“This figure is considered to be low in comparison to other regions. In Asia, for example, it is estimated to be close to 50 percent. We seriously need to explore ways and means of how we can use Codex standards to increase inter-regional trade and at the same time safeguard the health of our populations,” said Mfote.

Importance of adhering to international food standards

By adhering to international standards, countries can carve new markets and maintain existing ones as consumers can trust the safety and quality of the food products they buy and importers can trust that the food they ordered will be in accordance with their specifications.

FAO, through Codex Alimentarius – also known as the “food code," plays a central role in providing a forum where countries can dialogue and establish international agreed upon food standards with the view to not only protecting the health of consumers but also facilitating trade.

The project was also instrumental in strengthening the relationship between the three SADC countries, and the FAO/WHO Codex Coordinating Committee for Africa (CC-AFRICA). CC-AFRICA is a Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) subsidiary body coordinating food standards activities — including the development of regional standards - in 49 African countries.

One major take-home of the project has been the initiation of three food standards - sorghum seed (Lesotho), Mahewu or fermented mealie beverage (Swaziland) and edible worms — amacimbi (Zimbabwe). Defined food standards are expected to improve the quality of these regional food commodities and boost trade when finalised.

International food trade is currently estimated at 200 billion dollars a year, with billions of tonnes of food produced, marketed and transported. There is a lot at stake for protecting consumers' health and ensuring fair practices in the food trade. Codex members today cover 99 percent of the world's population, with an increasing number of developing countries taking an active part in the Codex process.



Edward Ogolla | FAO Southern Africa Communications | [email protected]

Leonard Makombe | FAO Zimbabwe Communications | [email protected]