By Tandong Calistus Jong – Africa cumulatively loses more than 670 million US Dollars annually in lost exports trade alone due to aflatoxin contamination, because major agricultural commodities such as maize, groundnuts and spices produced in the continent contain aﬂatoxin levels that are unacceptable for the European and other global markets.
Aflatoxins are the most pervasive food safety challenge in the continent of Africa as they can manifest at any point along the food value chain, they are complex and cut across health, trade and agriculture. By addressing food safety, countries will begin to revitalize and optimize the opportunities agriculture provides for the youth, therefore ultimately reducing poverty and directly addressing the call through the Malabo Declaration of creating job opportunities for at least 30% of the youth in agricultural value chains.
Unsafe food poses significant threat to public health: According to the World Health Organisation (2015), 91 million people in Africa fall ill each year due to food-borne diseases and 137,000 die of the same cause, representing one-third of the global death toll for foodborne diseases. Unsafe food costs low and middle income countries US$110 billion annually, from productivity loss and medical expenses alone (World Bank, 2018). Aflatoxins are highly toxic to humans and animals.
Aflatoxin-producing moulds affect grain and other food crops – maize and groundnuts in particular. Millions of people living in Africa are exposed to high, unsafe levels of aflatoxins through their diet. Aflatoxin can damage the liver and may lead to liver cancer. Evidence abounds that aflatoxin ingestion is frequent through contaminated foodstuffs and is one of the major etiological factors in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in China and sub-Saharan Africa.
Trade: Food safety has become an important pre-condition for access to global food markets and increasingly, for high-value domestic markets in developing countries. Therefore, unless food safety challenges are adequately addressed, Africa will not be able to effectively attain its development goals related to ending hunger, poverty reduction, and trade in agricultural commodities.
Tackling the challenge posed by unsafe food: the African Union Commission (AUC) – Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) in collaboration with CTA, ILRI, FAO and other stakeholders has developed African Food Safety Index (AFSI) to capture the multi-sectoral nature and impacts of food safety; a) Food Safety Systems Indicator (FSSI), b) Food Safety Health Indicator (FSHI) and c) Food Safety Trade Indicator (FSTI) in the 2nd Biennial Review Report on the Implementation of the Malabo Declaration.
The Malabo Declaration provides the direction for Africa’s agriculture transformation for the period 2015 – 2025, within the Framework of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), as a vehicle to contribute to the achievement of the objectives of the First Ten Year Implementation Plan of Africa’s Agenda 2063.
The tracking, monitoring and reporting on implementation progress towards achieving the goals and targets of the Malabo Declaration is an important mechanism to ensure that there is political will, backed by appropriate actions, to achieve agricultural growth and transformation on the continent by 2025 for improved livelihoods and shared prosperity for African citizens.
Agriculture has the potential to attract and create job opportunities for the youth, however, in order to achieve this, there is need to enhance the competitiveness of African agriculture which continues to be undermined by the lack of addressing food quality and food safety issues such as aflatoxins.
EDITOR’S NOTE – The writer, Tandong Calistus Jong is development expert, 2018 African Union Commission (AUC) – Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) Award winner, Food Safety Campaigner and African Agriculture Ambassador.