By Sharon Atieno

In order to build a resilient food system in Kenya, there is need to improve the conventional markets and encourage safer handling and storage of food, experts say.

According to Leonard Kimtai, Division of Food Safety Senior officer, Ministry of Health, in order to ensure food safety measures are enhanced in open air markets, there is need to invest in food safety infrastructure in the markets.

Speaking during a Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) conference, he said that one of the areas that needed investment is the sanitary facilities as it can be a source for the spread of foodborne diseases especially feacal-oral like typhoid and others.

Some of the recommendations for the sanitary facilities, Kimtai noted was that the location should be appropriate for ease of access, the material of the structure should be easy to clean, the structures should be sufficient for both genders and well equipped with complete handwashing facilities which include running water, soap dispenser and hand drying facility.

“Another investment is the management of waste (solid and liquid). The waste is important from point of generation where we need to separate these waste so that, at least we have biodegradable waste which will also influence the disposal. It should be put in the right receptacle and collected frequently and also disposed properly,” he said.

According to Kimtai, the availability of ample water – this means enough quantity and clean depending on the source- requires investment.

“If it is piped water, we know most of this water are from treatment water facilities within various towns. But if it is from boreholes, there should be initial test to see what kind of contaminants are in this water. This will later on, inform the treatment,” he said.

“There is also the issue of rainwater, catchment and runoff especially in ASALs. This water needs to be at least treated because it is critical especially because you’ll find it being used in washing of vegetables and other activities within the market.”

Leonard Kimtai (left) during the GAIN conference

Kimtai observed that there was also need to invest heavily on the layout especially zoning to avoid cross-contamination within the market. This will reduce movement of people from the less contaminous food to the highest contaminous food.

“In this case we can start with the ready to eat food from the entrance, then move to cereals, then vegetables and up to the last point is where we have the live market- where we have livestock and slaughtering is being done,” he explained.

According to Francisca Mwanzia, Deputy Director Agriculture-Machakos County, there is a lot of loss of agricultural produce in the markets due to lack of facilities to store the products to prolong their shelf life.

“When we visit most of the markets, not only in Machakos, we find a lot of waste like half or a quarter of the consignment that the wholesalers and retailers bought goes to waste” said Mwanzia.

“As we look at ways of modernizing the physical structures of our market, let us try to equip the markets with simple things like pool boxes and all that. As we think of smart markets, let us think of facilities that can be installed there just to preserve our produce and make sure the traders are getting the value of what they are trading with.”

She noted that unlike with the export produce where there is a traceability system-where the source of the produce can be identified- this remains a challenge in the food markets. In case of any arising issue with the product, the consumers or traders are unable to clearly trace the source of the produce.

Francisca Mwanzia (middle) among other panelists

Noting that traceability is important to safety, Dr. James Mutunga, Chief Officer of trade- Machakos county said that there is need for an elaborate traceability system that doesn’t have to be expensive.

In Machakos County, though the product has not been rolled out yet, the county government has come up with a product that helps to uniquely identify the farmer, trader or broker using a code that is sent through a text message.

He observed that the design of future markets, which he referred to as intelligent markets, are highly dynamic and informed by situations at the particular times that people will be living in.

“For example, in the first design of our modern markets, we had the raised platforms. Currently, we are redesigning them to have a flatbed platform and that is from a user perspective,” he said.

“Therefore, as we think through the different designs that we want to embrace and the smartness we want to engineer in these markets, let us carry along the consumer perspectives and user perspective because this is not only important but also enshrined in law through public participation.”

Dr. Mutunga added that when putting up these infrastructure, there is need to work with other stakeholders in sectors such as lands, health and agriculture, to ensure that the structures are optimally placed for maximum usability.

Kagwiria Koome, Manager Food Initiative- Rockefeller Foundation noted that redesigning the markets will not only address the immediate concerns of the pandemic but will also support the sustainability and economic prosperity.