African governments must act to address the risks of unsafe food and aflatoxins
Food systems are rapidly changing, bringing greater attention to issues of food safety. In 2010 alone foodborne hazards caused 600 million illnesses and 420,000 deaths across the world. 40 percent of this disease burden was among children under five years of age.
Aflatoxin contamination is one of the most pervasive food safety challenges in Africa. Aflatoxins are invisible poisons which contaminate many staple foods, cash crops and animal feeds. They are produced by fungi and can occur throughout value chains making it difficult to target interventions. Pre-harvest occurrence of aflatoxin increases with crop stress caused by drought and pest attack. Postharvest accumulation spikes with poor drying, storage and handling. Aflatoxins are virtually indestructible since normal food processing practices do not affect aflatoxin levels to any appreciable extent.
It is increasingly recognised that food safety, and aflatoxins in particular, is a significant threat not only to public health but also to agriculture and food systems in sub-Saharan Africa. It affects trade, rural incomes and purchasing power, worker productivity, and consumer confidence.
The broad impacts of foodborne hazards argue for integrated solutions. Policies in agriculture and food systems need to ensure both the nutritional quality and the safety of the foods we eat.
On 12th April, the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems and Nutrition and the African Union Commission’s Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) will bring together African policymakers to discuss food safety issues, and in particular aflatoxins.
At the joint high level roundtable, the Global Panel will launch its policy brief Assuring Safe Food Systems: Policy Options for a Healthier Food Supply, which reviews food safety issues that are critical to poor and vulnerable populations in low and middle-income countries. It sets out why governments must pay closer attention to food safety issues and invest accordingly, from production through to consumption.
The joint high level roundtable will also deliberate on the aflatoxin challenge and its impact on public health, nutrition and economic development in Africa and consider high level policy recommendations for addressing aflatoxin and other critical food safety priorities. The event will champion the cause of food safety and promote a growing understanding and political will in the continent to mitigate the aflatoxin problem.
H.E. Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union Commission and member of the Global Panel stated “aflatoxins are a developmental challenge to Africa that negatively impact the economy, public health, nutrition, food security and trade of member states. Curbing the aflatoxin menace is critical to maintain the gains we made in improving child and maternal nutrition and health, and attain the Malabo Declaration Commitments for agricultural transformation in the continent. It is now time to deliver, to walk the talk!”
Keynote speakers include H.E. Mrs. Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union Commission and H.E. John Kufuor, Former President of the Republic of Ghana. The high level roundtable will coincide with the 12th Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program Partnership Platform meeting in Accra.