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Continent-wide and country-level cooperation key to ensuring food safety in Africa


The regional offices for Africa of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) hosted a webinar on 14 June 2022 in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Codex Alimentarius Coordinating Committee for Africa (CCAFRICA). In addition to the co-hosts, nine speakers addressed different aspects of the multifaceted issue of food safety across the African continent.

The event was ably moderated by the African Union Food Safety Officer, John Oppong-Otoo, who was joined by Hakim Mufumbiro, coordinator of CCAFRICA, Adelheid Onyango, Director of theUHC/Healthier Populations Cluster, WHO Regional Office for Africa, Ade Freeman,Regional Programme Leader of FAO Regional Office for Africa and Betty Ka, Deputy Director Supply Chain Operations Division at WFP.

Offering the first of the opening comments, Mufumbiro said that it is critical, on World Food Safety Day, to share a “growing depth of information”, that can provide both Members and public with important facts on food safety. In relaying some of the headline statistics on foodborne disease across the world, Onyango said “Food safety is a fundamental element of health and sustainable development”, and Freeman pointed to the economic losses caused by foodborne illnesses. Touching on one of the themes that would emerge during the webinar, he said it is necessary “to shift the African continent onto a trajectory where it can feed itself – and that depends on how we work together”. Ka agreed, saying “we need an immediately coordinated response” to the threat of increased acute food insecurity.

The keynote speaker was Allan Azegele, Senior Deputy Director of Veterinary Services, Directorate of Veterinary Services at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Kenya. His presentation was followed by talks from Simone Moraes Raszl, a WHO scientist, Blaise Ouattara, Regional Food Safety and Quality Officer for Africa at FAO, Simplice Nouala Fonkou, Head of Agriculture, Food Safety Division at the African Union, Mohammed Nasser, Food Safety and Quality Assurance Officer, WFP, Owen Fraser, President of AOAC (Association of Official Agricultural Chemists), Sub-Saharan Africa Section, Chiluba Mwape from the SADC Secretariat, Hana Bekele, Technical Officer, Nutrition, WHO andRosemary Mwaisaka from the East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community.

Nearly every speaker noted challenges the African continent and its nations, competent authorities, food industries and consumers are facing. Confronted with climate change, conflicts, economic slowdowns and the pandemic, authorities are trying to maintain the continent’s food systems which are beset with a weak regulatory environment, poorly resourced and disjointed surveillance systems, a food chain that does not and cannot adhere to regulations that are in place, and minimal inspection and validation capacities. In listing these challenges, each speaker described strategies and programmes that are being put in place to ensure food systems transformation with food safety at its core. Despite the challenges, Freeman said there is light at the end of the tunnel. He gave three reasons for saying this: we know food markets are growing – they are set to be worth USD 1 trillion by 2030; we are seeing an expansion of regional trade in agricultural produce and services in Africa; and Africa is an increasingly attractive investment proposition.

Azegele opened his keynote speech by detailing the food safety challenges in Africa. “The impact on African economies due to unsafe food is staggering,” he said, adding there is no single, continent-wide solution. But strengthened systems will help domestic, regional and international markets. Improved food control, improved data and inspection services are all needed to detect, assess and manage food safety and emerging food safety issues. He described the role of Codex in the food standards setting process and pointed out that Codex is referenced in Annex 7 of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. He closed by quoting Steve Wearne, Chairperson of the Codex Alimentarius Commission: “We need to transform systems to deliver better health; and we need to do so in a sustainable way.”

Raszl described the priorities, pillars and objectives of the new WHO Global Food Safety Strategy, concluding that we “can reduce deaths by improving food control systems.” Ouattara then went on to detail the role of food safety in the FAO strategic framework. Fonkou also spoke on strategy – this time, to offer details of the AU Food Safety Strategy which was launched on World Food Safety Day itself. For Fonkou, partnership in Africa is key to making this strategy a success. Nasser gave an overview of the importance of food safety in WFP’s work, from procurement to consumption.

Oppongo then put some questions to the panellists, including one on what practical mechanisms can be put in place to ensure the work and investments of each agency are maximized. For Ouattara, the key lies in collaborative working at country level, while Raszl pointed to the multisectoral nature food safety work, but agreed that country-level collaboration as well as a One Health approach are important.

Owen Fraser described research AOAC has carried out that demonstrates the inadequate testing capacities in Africa: 50% of test results submitted are unreliable, he said. He reiterated the importance of investment in testing infrastructure and capacity to ensure food safety in Africa. Mwape talked about how to enhance the enforcement of SPS measures and Bekele gave a presentation on how “we need to work together” to transform our food systems so they are “nutrition-sensitive”.  And finally, Mwaisaka also discussed nutrition, and particularly fortification. She pointed out that in Africa, there is a food insecurity problem, but “the food we DO have is not safe and nutritious.”

In summarizing the wide-ranging discussions, Oppong-Otoo said: “We end the webinar, but the discussion will continue.”

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