Cross-sector approach needed to boost African food security

18 June 2020

Governments across Africa are being urged to work across industry sectors to ensure the safety and security of food supply chains.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, regional director for Africa at the World Health Organization (WHO), called for smarter investment and work around export certification and import controls.

Speaking on World Food Safety Day, Moeti said each year 91 million people in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from acute food-borne illness and 137,000 people die as a result.

She said everyone in the supply chain had a role to play in making food safe, from farmers to vendors to consumers, and this was even more important in the context of border closures and supply chain disruptions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Moeti added regulatory authorities played critical roles in food safety assurance and supporting markets to restructure and innovate towards safer environments. She urged the food processing industry to ensure workers were protected from Covid-19 through preventive measures and systems for early detection, isolation and care for workers who fall ill.

“For most people in Africa, traditional food markets are part of daily life,” said Moeti. “However, in many markets regulation for food handling and to prevent cross-contamination has not kept pace with population needs.

“Another issue is food spoilage between farms and markets – it is estimated that post-harvest spoilage could feed up to 48 million people every year in sub-Saharan Africa. This calls for smarter investment and design of our supply chains.”

Moeti highlighted the examples of countries including Benin and Gambia which she said were taking steps towards ensuring a better supply of safe food, having established dedicated food safety authorities and coordination mechanisms for multi-sector action.

WHO is working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Organisation for Animal Health to prevent food-borne and zoonotic diseases and antimicrobial resistance, Moeti said.

“There are many challenges in producing, processing and distributing safe, sufficient and nutritious foods and these challenges require a whole-of-society response,” she said. “In addition, to stop the spread of Covid-19 and other diseases, foods should be handled and sold in environments that facilitate physical distancing and good hand hygiene.”

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