By HENRY OWINO
As the world marks World Food Safety Day (WFSD), more than 800 million people across the globe go to bed hungry every night, most of them smallholder farmers who depend on agriculture to make a living and feed their families.
Despite an explosion in the growth of urban slums over the last decade, nearly 75 percent of poor people in developing countries live in rural areas. Therefore, an impressive and sustainable method of reducing hunger and malnutrition among these families is essential for food security.
Advancing food security requires involvement of governments, farmers, business operators and consumers to work together to adopt good practices such as safe and healthy food. Again by empowering families and individuals to meet their basic needs for a reliable source of quality food and sufficient resources to produce or purchase.
The WFSD celebrated on 7 June, 2021 aims to draw attention and inspire action to help prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks, contributing to food security, human health, economic prosperity, agriculture, market access, tourism and sustainable development.
This year’s theme, ‘Safe food today for a healthy tomorrow’, stresses that production and consumption of safe food has immediate and long-term benefits for people, the planet and the economy. Recognizing the systemic connections between the health of people, animals, plants, the environment and the economy will help us meet the needs of the future.
Recognizing the global burden of foodborne diseases, which affect individuals of all ages, in particular children under-5 and persons living in low-income countries, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed in 2018 that every 7 June would be World Food Safety Day.
Food Safety and Security
According to Annalisa Conte, WFP’s Country Director and Representative in Kenya, 2020, the World Health Assembly further adopted a decision on strengthening efforts on food safety to reduce the burden of foodborne disease. World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) jointly facilitate the observance of World Food Safety Day, in collaboration with Member States and other relevant organizations.
Conte said United Nations’ (UN)Committee on World Food Security defines food security as, having at all times, both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life. A family is food secure when its members do not live in hunger or fear of hunger.
“The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include eradication of hunger. To feed 10 billion persons 2050, governments need to get the trade-offs right between sustainability, food security, food safety, and make better use of food already produced,” Conte, WFP Country Director said.
Conte said food insecurity is often rooted in poverty and has long-term impacts on the ability of families, communities and countries to develop and prosper. She however, pointed out prevalence of conflict, political instability and is also to blame for food insecurity in Africa as it barricade farmers from taking staple crops to the markets climate change notwithstanding.
The WFP Country Director cautioned: “Prolonged undernourishment leads to stunts growth, slows cognitive development and increases susceptibility to illness. Consequently, food safety is a shared responsibility between governments, producers and consumers. Everyone has a role to play from the farm to table to ensure the food consumed is safe and healthy.”
Through the World Food Safety Day, WHO works to mainstream food safety in the public agenda and reduce the burden of foodborne diseases globally. Food safety is everyone’s business. This, in turn, supports global stability and prosperity. By addressing the root causes of hunger it helps in increasing economic opportunity and growth among vulnerable communities.
Peter Munya, Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in Kenya affirmed that agricultural sector is the backbone of the economy to many African countries. In Kenya for example, he said agriculture contribute approximately 33 percent of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). At the same time, agriculture sector employs more than 40 percent of the total population and 70 percent of the rural population.
Nevertheless, Munya admitted that agricultural productivity has stagnated in recent years. For example, smallholder farmers and agricultural enterprises continue to face challenges growing their businesses and improving the quality of agricultural goods. He emphasized that a global approach to food safety and security is necessary to ensure that differing standards do not present barriers to trade.
“In Kenya, 30 percent of the food consumed by rural households is purchased, while 70 is derived from own production. On the other hand, 98 percent of food consumed in urban areas is purchased while 2 percent is own production,” Munya disclosed. Adding: “This emphasizes the strategic role played by the rural households in food security of many African countries”.
The Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture attributed the situation largely to Covid-19 pandemic which has since disrupted agricultural activities. He calls for enhancement of agricultural-led economic growth, improve nutrition outcomes, strengthen county governments’ capacity, and build sustainable market systems through private sector engagement with self-reliant rural households.
“It is for these challenges that Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya) and Samiah Suluhu (Tanzania) recently had bilateral talks on free import and export of agricultural produce between the two countries. The two presidents had a mutual agreement for the benefits of their citizens where they agreed on cross border free trade,” Munya revealed.
This way, the two countries and its citizens are going benefit by importing and exporting more foodstuffs, thereby increasing food supply, minimizing prices and open business opportunities.
The movement restrictions such as lockdowns within and without the two countries’ borders as results of Covid-19 pandemic ,made transit of foodstuffs almost impossible causing food prices shooting up.
Most farmers and traders have welcomed the bilateral negotiations (agreements) saying it has enhanced food supply, accessibility, security and affordable prices. Agricultural produce markets are currently operating with fresh foodstuff improving livelihoods.
Food insecurity is often rooted in poverty and has long-term impacts on the ability of families, communities and countries to develop and prosper. Prolonged undernourishment stunts growth, slows cognitive development and increases susceptibility to illness.
Growth in the agriculture sector from farm to fork has been shown to be at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors. So, it is important to invest in smallholder farmers many of whom are women and in the markets around them which is more important than ever.
In order to feed a population expected to grow to 9 billion people by 2050, the world will have to double its current food production. Given scarcity of natural resources and other challenges, the world need to be more efficient in how it meets this demand. To ensure that people have sufficient food, aligning short-term assistance with a long-term development strategy can help countries feed their own people.