A recent report carried out by World Bank has revealed that the impact of unsafe food costs low- and middle-income economies about US$ 110 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses each year.
It said unfortunately a large proportion of these costs could be avoided by adopting preventative measures that improve how food is handled from farm to fork and that managing the safety of food would also significantly contribute to achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals, especially those relating to poverty, hunger, and well-being.
Foodborne diseases, caused an estimated 600 million illnesses and 420,000 premature deaths in 2010 according to World Health Organization statistics.
It said that this global burden of foodborne disease is unequally distributed, and relative to their population, low- and middle-income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia, bear a proportionately high burden. They account for 41 percent of the global population yet 53 percent of all foodborne illness and 75 percent of related deaths. Unsafe food threatens young children the most: although children under 5 make up only 9 per cent of the world’s population, they account for almost 40 percent of foodborne disease and 30 percent of related deaths.
Discussing this impact with our Correspondent, Executive Director and Founder, Women in Agricultural Advancement and Sustainability Africa, WAASA, Chi Tola Roberts said food safety starts with farmers but unfortunately majority of Nigerian rural farmers are illiterate.
Chi Tola said though education on food safety should cut across the entire value chain but it should begin from the farm up to storage, explaining that it is the responsibility of the farmer to embark on monitoring activities including the preparation and consumption of agricultural inputs, harvest, post-harvest, and processing and marketing of agricultural products in the form of a food safety cycle.
She further explained that many farmers are even faced with other hazards as some farmers are affected by cancer and other incurable diseases because they do not observe safety principles while using pesticides and chemical toxins.
According to her, When farmers incur more costs to comply with production standards and try to produce healthy crops one of the principles that can keep them motivated to maintain the cycle of food safety is observing the value they add to the production to consumption process.
She however observed that due to low quality of farm yields major food processing companies like Nestle resorts to import of raw materials for their production.
For instance, she said the company imports corn for making cerelac until recently when it started engaging local farmers, building their capacities to enable improve on their yield.
The company recently said it has engaged a total of 41,700 local farmers and apart from patronising them, Nestle also put them through a series of training on sustainable farming practices and business management skills.
With this support they can now produce more and with improved quality of grain because aflatoxins are a huge menace in Nigeria.
Nestle before now is mindful of making purchases from local market because it is difficult to determine how much aflatoxin in the corn, and many diseases can be traced to aflatoxin contamination in the food being consumed.
Nestle is concerned that in groundnuts, corn, and all other grains contain aflatoxin but with ongoing engagement a lot of work is being done to improve the quality of the grain.
The farmers are tutored on how to use the chemicals well, how to harvest properly, how to thresh properly, how to dry properly to reduce this contamination, because some of the contamination actually happens post-harvest, they are supported to build those skills to ensure that not only what they sell to the factory but what people get in the market at the end of the day is better.
Today, Nestlé Nigeria is sourcing 80 per cent of its maize, sorghum, millet, soya, cassava starch, cocoa powder, palm olein from more than 41, 600 local farmers and processors scattered across the country.
Nestlé Cereals Plan project has over 30,000 farmers who supply 100 per cent of the grain requirement for Golden Morn Maize. Through its Sorghum and Millet in the Sahel (SMS) project, now called Nestlé Nigeria & IFDC / 2Scale Project Sorghum & Millet, the food and beverage giant has engaged up to 10,671 farmers.
The company said it has huge needs and has to help farmers improve their yields to meet them, and to achieve real success with connecting farmers to industry, a 360 degree approach which will include the aggregators, processors, and logistics suppliers must be considered within the value chain.
Also, Nigerian Breweries (NB), the country’s biggest brewer with up to 60 per cent market share, was a well-known importer of barley, an essential raw material for making beer, until it discovered a local substitute called sorghum.
Today, the company sources locally from an agriculture-based firm called Psaltery Nigeria Limited, and there are over 250,000 farmers spread across several agronomic zones in the North that are directly or indirectly involved in planting sorghum for Nigerian Brewery.
LEADERSHIP learnt that the brewer has currently raised its local sourcing from 50 to 60 percent.
Similarly, a dairy maker FrieslandCampina WAMCO is sourcing some of its raw milk from farmers in communities in Oyo State. FrieslandCampina used to import 100 per cent of its raw milk from the Netherlands and anywhere else, but it is now getting 10 per cent of raw milk from local Fulani farmers.
As of 2017, over 70 farming communities, including 962 women, supply raw milk to FrieslandCampina WAMCO on a daily basis.
In addition, Flour Mills of Nigeria is also sourcing inputs for local farmers, as it gets its palm oil from its own Agri Palm Limited located at Ugbogui and Iguiye near Benin City in Edo State.
The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low-and Middle-Income Countries, revealed by World Bank, translates these grim statistics into economic terms to focus government attention on the need for greater investment, better regulatory frameworks, and measures that promote behavior change. The total productivity loss associated with foodborne disease in low- and middle-income countries is estimated to cost US$ 95.2 billion per year, and the annual cost of treating foodborne illnesses is estimated at US$ 15 billion. Other costs, though harder to quantify, include losses of farm and company sales, foregone trade income, the health repercussions of consumer avoidance of perishable yet nutrient-rich foods, and the environmental burden of food waste.
“Food safety receives relatively little policy attention and is under-resourced. Action is normally reactive—to major foodborne disease outbreaks or trade interruptions—rather than preventative,” says Juergen Voegele, Senior Director of the Food and Agriculture Global Practice at the World Bank. “By focusing on domestic food safety more deliberately, countries can strengthen the competitiveness of their farmers and food industry and develop their human capital. After all, safe food is essential to fuel a healthy, educated, and resilient workforce.”
For many low- and middle-income countries, rapid demographic and dietary changes among others are contributing to wider exposure of populations to foodborne hazards, stretching if not overwhelming prevailing capacity to manage food safety risks. The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low- and Middle-Income Countriesschematically describes the alignment—or lack of alignment—between food safety risks and the capacity to manage them as countries develop economically and food systems and diets transform. The study finds that the gap is the most pronounced “in the middle of the pack,” that is, among lower-middle income countries, and it offers targeted recommendations to address these.
“Governments in low- and middle-income countries not only need to invest more in food safety but also invest more smartly,” says Steven Jaffee, Lead Agriculture Economist at the World Bank and study co-author. “This means investing in foundational knowledge, human resources, and infrastructure; realizing synergies among investments in food safety, human health, and environmental protection; and using public investment to leverage private investment.”
The study also supports a shift in approaches to food safety regulation. The traditional approach centers on enforcing regulatory compliance through product testing and food facility inspections, and the application of legal and financial penalties for infractions. Greater emphasis is needed on providing information and other resources to motivate and empower food sector operators to comply with food safety regulation.
“The results of regulation should be measured in terms of compliant enterprises, confident consumers, and food safety outcomes rather than the number of fines or business closures,” says Jaffee. The study was supported by the US Food and Drug Administration. It is a collaborative effort involving multiple researchers and practitioners and draws on data and insights from the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and other partners.
The study also observed that in many developing countries, food safety usually receives minimal policy attention and investment and only tends to capture national attention during foodborne disease outbreaks and other crises. As a result, many countries have weak food safety systems in terms of infrastructure, trained human resources, food safety culture and enforceable regulations.
The costs of unsafe food are high—especially in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, which have the highest incidence of foodborne diseases. Aside from public health costs and the loss of productivity associated with food-borne diseases, disruptions to food markets and impediments to agri-food exports due to food safety problems also take a toll.
The good news is that much of the burden of unsafe food can be avoided through practical and often low-cost behavior and infrastructure changes at different points along food value chains, including in traditional food production and distribution channels.
The study further provides countries with a guide to avoiding the burden of unsafe food—including the right type of investments, policies, and other interventions.