Delivering safe food for better health starts from the farm to the plate

Meshack Nyambane inspects beans at his farm in Birongo, Kisii County. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

World Food Safety Day was celebrated yesterday. This year’s theme, “Safer food, better health” highlights the role safe nutritional food plays in ensuring human health and well-being and calls for a set of specific actions to make food safer.

Food safety starts on the farm and ends with the consumer. Aligning interventions along the commodity value chain ensures that food is produced and processed in a clean and healthy environment, thus guaranteeing the consumers a healthy diet.

The Pan Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) developed the Bean Corridor Approach to resolve challenges along the bean value chain from production to consumption. Our research on beans has led to the release of 33 bean varieties in Kenya to ensure the beans produced are of high nutritional content, are acceptable by the consumers and markets, are climate-smart and produced under safe conditions. 

Beans are prone to diseases such as rust, anthracnose, root rots, Bean Common Mosaic Virus (BCMV) and Bean Common Mosaic and Necrotic Virus (BCMNV), angular leaf spot, and blights, among others. PABRA works with the Kenya Agricultural Research and Livestock Organisation (KALRO) to develop bean varieties that are tolerant to a wide range of pests and diseases. For example, the varieties KK8 and KK194 were bred for root rot resistance, a major disease problem in the western Kenya region.

Planting seeds infected by disease could lead to complete crop failure. Such also demands extensive use of agrochemicals to control the disease in the field. The disease problem can be minimised by growing disease-free seeds. Over the last 10 years, the number of seed companies dealing in bean seed has increased from two to seven and includes Agriscope (formerly East Africa Seed), Kenya Seed Company, Bubayi Seeds, Western Seed Company, Dryland Seed Limited in Machakos, SeedCo, among others. By using clean seeds, the risk of disease incidences is reduced meaning that the use of agrochemicals is also minimised.

A healthy plant can grow stronger and protect itself from pests and disease attacks. Farmers can adopt Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) to ensure healthy crops and lower the risk of contaminating produce with dangerous pathogens or agrochemicals. By following GAPs, from field preparation through harvest and marketing, the risk of contaminating produce can be greatly reduced.

PABRA has invested in training the bean producers to adopt integrated crop management and integrated pest and disease management practices that advocate for building diverse and resilient systems to drought, pest, and diseases. The key to a pest and disease-free farm is farm hygiene where the farm is kept weed-free and at the right crop density and spacing.

With changing climate, timely planting can help evade adverse weather that predisposes beans to disease attack. It can also help evade periods of high pest and disease attacks on beans. Promoting soil health improvement ensures beans are healthy and able to fight off pest and disease attacks. Other aspects include crop diversification, rotation and intercropping to take advantage of natural repellants and physical barriers for insect control.

A significant proportion of food contamination and loss happens during post-harvest handling and storage. This can be from the risk of moulds and contamination from grain preservation chemicals. Food safety must start from the field with good agricultural practices that minimize chemical contamination in the final stored grain.

Achieving food safety and healthy diets is our collective responsibility. As we celebrate World Food Safety Day, we join the world in advocating for safe and healthy diets for all. Let us ensure production to consumption is done in a safe and healthy manner.