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Why food safety is missing link in the quest to attain food security

Saturday January 26 2019

Godfrey Nyang’ori, the AgriFi programmes manager at the Micro Enterprises Support Programme Trust.

Godfrey Nyang’ori, the AgriFi programmes manager at the Micro Enterprises Support Programme Trust. He notes that farmers and consumers need to take food safety seriously. PHOTO | COURTESY 

BRIAN OKINDA
By BRIAN OKINDA
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Godfrey Nyang’ori is the AgriFi programmes manager at the Micro Enterprises Support Programme Trust (MESPT), which is implementing an initiative to boost food safety in 13 counties. He spoke to Brian Okinda on why farmers and consumers need to take food safety seriously

What is food safety?

This is a broad discipline that includes all measures taken to preserve quality of food from production, handling, processing, preparation and marketing to prevent contamination and food-borne illnesses.

How is food safety linked to food security?

Food security exists when everyone gets access to adequate, safe and nutritious food, which meets their daily dietary needs.

In this regard, the safety aspect will entail investing in a food safety system that investigates the chain of activities from farm to fork. Food security cannot be achieved without food safety.

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What elements in our environment compromise safety of food we produce and consume and what are the health implications that arise from this?

Food safety has been a concern in the entire agricultural value chain. In dairy, for instance, much of our milk is marketed via the informal sector posing threats to consumers.

Other concerns arise from hygiene, milk handling, animal health, nutrition and waste management. In aquaculture, food safety nests around production aspects like site selection, quality of water, sourcing fingerlings, fish feeds and parasites and disease control.

In crops, pre-farming, farming and marketing practices must be considered. For instance, one must use certified seed varieties, farm as recommended including when using fertilisers, agro-chemicals and hygienically handle, store, process and market the produce.

Focusing on all these issues will help minimise contamination, food-borne diseases and unsafe food ending up in the market.

Is the bulk of food consumed locally safe since no one checks quality before it reaches markets unlike with export produce?

Food for export market is produced under the Global GAP guidelines and producers strive to comply with the rules to get competitive advantage in the market.

For local market, previous researches reveal that not all food is safe and one of the major issues that lack is traceability, which can help consumers and authorities look at how safety issues are implemented in the entire chain.

The concept of traceability promotes food safety and thus food security with proper awareness and sensitisation of consumers needed so that they can demand safe food.

There are several traceability options that farmers and processors can adopt, which range from paper to electronic systems.

What are the repercussions of consuming unsafe food?

It can certainly lead to health concerns like food poisoning or intoxication, allergic reactions, stunted growth in children, diseases related to heart and cancer among others.

Some insecticides, herbicides and pesticides have been known to contain elements deemed unsafe to humans as well as animals, but they are still distributed and used in farming activities.

Certainly, we must rise above consuming food products without asking the hard questions on their safety. In crops, most herbicides contain glyphosate as the active ingredient which has been cited as a probable carcinogenic to humans.

Excessive use of agrochemicals also end up polluting water sources through surface run-off.

This water is then consumed by livestock and aquatic animals. Adhering to post-harvest intervals recommended by manufacturers and integrated pest management approach will help mitigate the risk of having traces of agrochemicals in our produce.

How has food safety affected trade of agricultural produce abroad?

There has been generally excessive use of inorganic fertilisers and other agrochemicals, which has led to degradation of land and consequently, this affects productivity.

Trade of export produce has been hit due to non-compliance particularly in traceability issues and minimum residual levels inclusion.

How can issues of food safety be enhanced in the country?

As a country, we need to prioritise our health, which is our wealth. Food safety regulating bodies and the private sector need to work together and be well-funded to engage in long-term activities committed to sustain and improve food safety.

There should be training of food value chain actors, regular review and enforcement of food safety standards, consumer sensitisation and of course offering premium prices for safe produce is key.

What is your organisation doing to boost food safety?

MESPT and DANIDA recently launched a programme dubbed “AgriFI - Food Safety Systems for Value Chain Competitiveness” funded by the European Union.

The programme is intended to realise some significant gains in stepping up food safety in 13 counties through strengthening the capacity of aquaculture, horticulture and dairy value chain actors on sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards.

The programme will also sensitise consumers on food safety