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New guidelines developed to address pressing challenges faced by informal food sector

The new guidelines seek to reflect the realities of African food systems to improve the ways in which African governments engage with the informal sector in their efforts to improve the safety of foods. (Image source: flickr)

The African Union (AU) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have entered into partnership to produce the first framework to improve food safety in the informal food sector

Africa's informal food markets comprising street vendors, kiosks, and traditional market sellers, among others are critical for food security, employment and livelihoods, particularly for the continent's urban poor, with around 70% of Africa's urban households buying food from these markets. However, neglect and mismanagement of food safety in these domestic markets has resulted in around 90 million Africans falling sick from foodborne illness every year. This has in turn cost an estimated US$16bn in productivity losses, thus prompting the development of these new guidelines. 

The new guidelines seek to reflect the realities of African food systems to improve the ways in which African governments engage with the informal sector in their efforts to improve the safety of foods. Embracing and engaging with the informal food sector as a cornerstone of food systems transformation is likely to play a key role in the post-Malabo agenda. Published in 2021, the AU’s continental-wide Food Safety Strategy for Africa is the base upon which the new draft guidelines have been developed. 

While compliance with food safety standards has improved in Africa’s exported goods, progress has been limited when it comes to the domestic informal sector, which is typically fragmented and under-resourced. The guidelines are informed by ILRI’s research and interventions for improved food safety across Africa. This has included a 'push-pull' approach in Burkina Faso, which involved both food hygiene training for chicken grillers as well as awareness campaigns for consumers, and inclusive professionalisation of the informal milk sector in Kenya through training and marketing.

By consulting with informal sector actors and partners, the AU and ILRI are helping to refine the guidelines from 10 June. The consultation process with member states will continue throughout 2024 and 2025 before the framework is scheduled to be presented to the AU policy bodies for approval in 2025.

“Western approaches to improving food safety, which include compliance with strict requirements and involve complex documentation processes, are really only suited to the formal sector, which is regularised and has sufficient financial resources,” said Silvia Alonso, senior scientist epidemiologist at ILRI. “The reality is most African consumers buy food from the informal sector, which requires different approaches for food safety management. With the right support, governments can unlock the informal food sector as a vehicle for healthy and safe foods for all, and a source of decent and dignified employment for men and women, especially youth, in Africa.”

In addition, food safety officer at the African Union International Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), John Oppong-Otoo believes that these new guidelines will provide realistic and practical guidance to help governments work with the informal sector and gradually transform it to safely and sustainably sustain the population.