Photo K. Dhanji/ILRI

Food safety research for development in sub-Saharan Africa: Tapping the expertise of German partners

According to recent estimates by the World Health Organization, the global burden of foodborne diseases is comparable to that of HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis or malaria. Up to 90% of foodborne disease is caused by microbes in perishable foods of which more than 80% are sold in the informal agri-food system. Informal markets, also referred to as wet or traditional markets, are characterized by local products, prices, and marketing channels where actors are often not trained, not licensed, and not paying taxes. However, these markets provide food and jobs to millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. They are also the major markets for most smallholder producers of fresh foods. Lack of evidence on attribution data and limited understanding of risk-based approaches in food safety management only worsen the problem. The Safe Food, Fair Food project, funded by GIZ and led by the International Livestock Research Institute, aims to improve the livelihoods of poor producers and consumers by reducing the health risks and increasing the livelihood benefits associated with meat, milk and fish value chains in sub-Saharan Africa. From 2008-2015 the project was implemented in ten countries South of the Sahara with partners from Africa, Germany and Japan. Key findings include: • Informal markets are integral to food, nutrition and job security in sub-Saharan Africa; • Although hazards are often common in informal markets risk to human health is not necessarily high; • Risks in the informal food chains have been under-researched and need attention; • Risks vary and may not be as serious as perceived: food safety policy should be based on evidence not perceptions; • Participatory methods are useful in studying food safety risks in informal food chains; • Simple interventions could lead to substantial improvements: potable water, electricity, training, standards, appropriate hygienic supervision etc.; • Food safety needs a multi-disciplinary (One Health) and multi-sectoral approach; • Comprehensive, jointly developed and implemented policies are prerequisites for food safety assurance. German partner institutions engaged were the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Freie Universität Berlin, Friedrich-Löffler-Institute, and University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim. More than 30 food safety practitioners, students and scientists were trained in specific laboratory methods for hazard identification (i.e. Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., Toxoplasma gondii or Trichinella spp.) at German partner institutes or in their home countries, and field isolates were archived at German partner institutes. More than 200 key stakeholders at over 35 institutions in 12 countries were trained on the concepts of risk-based approaches and (participatory) risk assessment. Joint risk assessments and pilot interventions for improving food safety have been disseminated in 15 peer-reviewed journal publications and more than 200 other outputs.