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Home / OPEDS

We should be more concerned about safety of our foods

Alice Anyango sorts beans at Kibuye market in Kisumu county. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

According to Food and Agriculture Organisation, an estimated 600 million people fall sick while 420,000 die annually from consuming contaminated food. This causes low and middle-income economies to lose about 95 billion dollars of productivity due to illness, disability, and premature death suffered by workers, hindering economic development. These socio-economic costs are extremely high and must be adequately addressed.

Food safety is a shared responsibility of the producers, the government and consumers as well as all the other players along the value chain. The public sector, however, has a critical role to play by enforcing standards and ensuring food producers and actors along the value chain follow protocols by putting in place an efficient food control system.

Now, more than ever before, with the raging Covid-19 pandemic, we need more investments in food safety, as the virus increases the severity of pre-existing health conditions, predisposing people already suffering from poor nutrition, food-borne illnesses and hunger to the virus. Furthermore, investments in the sector are very critical for human health, trade and economic development of the country. However, globally investments in food safety policy implementation and interventions have remained minimal.

In Kenya, the agricultural budgetary allocation has continuously remained low; below the 10 per cent recommended by the African Union Malabo Declaration. In the Sh2.91 trillion 2020/2021 budget, only Sh52.8 billion was allocated to the agricultural sector. Sadly, the amount, which was only  1.8 per cent of the total budget, is not specific to food safety that has continuously remained a silent area of investment.

This is a concern since food producers often lack the capacity, knowledge and infrastructure to guarantee safe food for consumers. This can only be rectified by intense lobbying by all actors in the sector for increased investments by both the public sector in the development of government policy and infrastructure and private sector in advancing food safety in all the value chains.

Civil society organisations have continued to sensitise consumers to demand safe food. They have also continuously lobbied the government to increase the allocation for food safety with some encouraging results. In Nyandarua County, for instance, the government is making efforts to ensure food safety by investing in milk coolers.

But although the county government has made positive steps, it needs more funds to provide adequate coolers to farmers across the county to ensure that all milk is chilled within two to three hours after milking.

Apart from the lack of coolers, the quality of milk is compromised by a lack of testing equipment that relies on the farmers' and cooperatives’ ability to have the right testing equipment, which are quite expensive.

Besides milk, little interventions have been made to ensure the safety of fresh produce. Most counties still don’t have good markets that can guarantee the safety of fresh produce. There is a need to build such markets with a special focus on food safety.

Indeed, to reduce the economic costs of unsafe food, the government should increase expenditure on food safety by investing in infrastructure development, laboratories, subsidising the cost of food testing equipment and cold storage facilities to boost food safety and shelf life.

Achievement of this goal can be be enhanced through policy interventions by advancing multi-sectoral approaches in food safety with all relevant ministries involved in budgeting processes and activities, deliberations on food safety at national and county level and helping farmers to produce safe food through capacity building programmes.

In addition, planning for food safety in national development plans and providing a framework for public and private partnerships in food safety interventions must be cultivated by both national and county governments.

In Nyandarua, the county assembly has food safety on top of its agenda and is expected to chart the way forward on the provision of more cold storage facilities.

-Amondi is a project assistant at CUTS-Centre for International Trade, Economics and Environment, Nairobi. 

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