By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja
As agribusiness becomes a focus in international trade, stakeholders in within African Union, has taken food safety to centre stage on export trade under the context African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA, with bid to improve food security and ensure consumption of safe food for better health of Africans.
The Head of Agriculture and Food Security of the African Union Commission, Dr Simplice Nouala, Wednesday, pointed this at the ‘First workshop on Food Safety Information and Knowledge Management Systems in Africa’, held by African Union Commission, in Douala, Cameroon.
Nouala further stated that the African Union is concerned with effective data generation, analysis and knowledge exchange to support risk assessment, decision making, inform food safety policy formulation and harmonisation at national, regional and continental level and conversely boost inter-African trade within the context AfCFTA.
According to him, food safety has become an important precondition to export markets and if not addressed proactively, and warned that it can be an impediment to the AfCFTA, particularly in boosting trade of agriculture goods and service.
He said: “We need to establish data generation systems that are evidence based to significantly improve food safety management on the continent. Contaminated foods impede the food security efforts and maintain the unacceptable status quo of food insecurity, hunger, malnutrition and other health related problems and thus making poverty eradication and economic development a challenge.
“The African Union is fully committed to addressing issues of food safety on the continent through improved and sustainable generation of reliable food safety data to inform evidence-based policy and decision making.”
Meanwhile, the representative of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Head of Agriculture and Food Security Division of the ECOWAS Commission, Ernest Aubee, commended the African Union Commission for implementing the Executive decision EX.CL/1187 (XXXVI, on the endorsement of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Policy Framework for Africa that will bring about multiple benefits to the continent in terms of food safety and enhancing continental trade with the operationalisation of the AfCFTA.
“SPS is a critical for the attainment of food and nutrition security objectives of the ECOWAS region and the ECOWAS commission has invested heavily and the President of ECOWAS is leading efforts to end hunger and malnutrition after the success registered in the 3rd CAADP Biennial Review Report where West Africa region emerged in the best performing region.
“There are a number of challenges of food safety systems in Africa that include weak institutional set up, generally limited attention to prioritize food safety contributed to food losses and fragmented and diverse systems that vary among Member States, which further make it difficult for member states to trade with each other. Food safety is a key factor in agricultural development and food security”, Aubee said.
The representative of Government of Cameroon, NGO SAK Cécile Patricia, acknowledged that problems associated with contaminated food mostly consumed in the continent, and said it leads to increased losses and waste, hence compounding problems of food insecurity.
Patricia also commended the AUC for organising the workshop and urged experts to freely share ideas that will improve the food safety data systems on the continent.
She said: “Unsafe and contaminated food contributes to increased losses and waste, which has the effect of aggravating food insecurity and its other consequences such as malnutrition which persists in our sub-region.”
Earlier, participants at the workshop were welcomed by the Director of AU-IAPSC, Dr Jean Gérard Mezui-M’ella, and urged them to explore options and learn lessons from other global system to guide the development of food safety information and knowledge management system for Africa.
“African countries have gaps in capacity to collect local risk assessment data and globalization of the supply of agricultural raw materials has also increased the challenges for the regulatory authorities to best manage the risks associated with the effect of pests and diseases. The Food safety challenges are fundamental and require the use of science-based approaches for better management of credible data related to human health.”
He added that building expertise and infrastructure capacity for monitoring and surveillance in Africa, by using analytical tools as well as automated data collection and synthesis will significantly contribute to ensuring food security and help prioritize and implement relevant food safety actions.
The global experiences of food safety data collection, exchange and use, were shared by experts through presentation on similar initiatives and related global systems.
This provided insights and lesson sharing on the existing systems. Collaboration mechanism with the AUC food safety information and knowledge management systems were explored. e.g. International Food Safety Authorities Network, INFOSAN; and EU Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, RASFF), although most of them serve different food safety management functions of the respective countries or regions, they offer potential.
The workshop came up with recommendations to establish a continental food safety information hub and knowledge management systems that facilitates data generation, analysis and data sharing to improve risk assessments and decision making. Also taking into consideration the following aspect to ensure relaiabilty and sustainability of the system; Building capacity for Laboratory based monitoring, surveillance for risk assessment, data generation, collation and analytics. Timely generation and sharing of data, also featured as significant consideration to ensure interventions and actions are taken by decision maker in a timely manner.
The need to capture modern tools such as analytical tools as well as automated data collection and synthesis to make use of “big data” will be of great value to African countries with limited resources and evolving food safety systems.
Building capacity for data generation and analysis, including infrastructure and manpower, Developing policy guidelines on data protection of sensitive food safety information while ensuring information exchange at all level.
Resource mobilisation is required to ensure sustainable ways of capturing and collating information and knowledge of relevance to food safety such as from data analytics Make available policies and legislation, regulatory system and good practice, to inform public awareness as well as policy advocacy and decision making Focus on evidence-based actions to improve food safety in the continent.
The system will to address a gap in capacity to collect and analyse data related to Food safety and give the AU an opportunity to be able to produce their own data and they don’t have to rely on other systems.