A food safety index launched in Dakar, Senegal recently, aims to address health problems linked to failure to plan for sufficient food.
The African Food Safety Index (FSI) will help track food shortages and food made unsafe by bacteria, viruses, pesticide residues and natural toxins such as cyanide in cassava, and aflatoxin in staple foods like maize and groundnuts.
Food insecurity has been linked to poor yields due to low investment in the latest technology and poor storage which affects the quality of food that makes it to dinner tables.
The index thought to be a useful tool in tackling food shortages, is expected to lead to improved health in the region by fighting malnutrition.
“Without access to safe food, consumers are denied access to adequate food, nutrition or health,” said Amare Ayalew, the programme manager at the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa.
According to the World Health Organisation, 91 million people in Africa fall ill each year due to foodborne diseases. Of these 137,000 die, many of whom are children and other vulnerable groups.
Unsafe food is a threat to food and nutrition security and an impediment to national development.
GLOBAL FOOD MARKET
In addition to health concerns, food safety has become an important precondition for access to global food markets and increasingly, for high-value domestic markets in developing countries.
No studies have been done on specific impact on national economies, but evidence indicates a high burden on trade and health.
AFSI is to be adopted by all 55 African Union countries, and entrenched into the Malabo Declaration, a continental policy that commits at least 10 per cent of national government budgets to agriculture.
The policy aims to “accelerate agricultural growth and transformation, for shared prosperity and improved livelihoods.”
The expected outcomes for the AFSI include the prioritisation of food safety in AU member states, with at least 25 member states developing food safety master plans to increase investment in food safety.
At least 20 countries will submit reports on the Food Safety Index to the second AU Malabo Biennial Review in October 2019 (for review and endorsement at the AU January 2020 Summit).
Once implemented, countries are expected to report a better understanding and ability to manage foodborne diseases and the safe trade of food.
The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is partnering with the African Union Commission, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and WHO to launch the AFSI which will provide the evidence necessary for African countries to prioritise food safety, reduce foodborne illnesses and improve trade and income.
“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 reasons of health,” said Michael Hailu, Director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA).
“If smallholder farmers cannot connect to expanded market opportunities, including exports, they will never be able to escape the cycle of poverty,” he added.
CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU).
Its mission is to advance food security, resilience and inclusive economic growth in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific through innovations in sustainable agriculture.
According to the 2015 WHO report on the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases, the global burden attributed to 31 main food-hazards was 33 million disability adjusted life years in 2010, with the highest burden per population observed in Africa, accounting for a third of the death toll.
The implementing partners and experts met to design a composite indicator that will be included in the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) biennial review for progress monitoring and scoring for all the 55 member states.