Guidelines to help African governments improve food security in informal food markets will be developed

The African Union and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are set to develop the first-ever guidelines to help African governments improve food security in informal food markets.

Continent-wide consultation begins on new draft guidelines designed to address the unique challenges of African food markets, which rely heavily on the informal sector.

New guidelines to help African governments improve food security in the continent’s vast informal food sector are set to be developed for the first time.

The African Union (AU) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have joined forces to produce the first framework to address the unique challenges facing a vital but often neglected informal food sector.

Africa’s informal sector is essential for food security, employment and livelihoods, particularly for the continent’s urban poor. Roughly 70 percent of urban African households buy food in informal markets, which include, among others, street vendors, kiosks and traditional market vendors.

However, food security in African domestic markets, including informal markets, has historically been neglected or poorly managed. A few 90 million Every year, Africans contract food-borne illnesses, costing approximately 16 billion US dollars in productivity losses. In comparison, the international community only invests 55 million US dollars per year in food security projects on the continent.

The new guidelines seek to reflect the realities of African food systems to improve how African governments engage with the informal sector in their efforts to improve food safety. The adoption and engagement of the informal food sector as a cornerstone of food systems transformation will likely play a key role in the post-Malabo agenda.

“Food and nutrition security is a human right, yet unsafe food undermines this right for millions of Africans every year,” said John Oppong-OtooFood Safety Officer, African Union International Bureau of Animal Resources (AU-IBAR).

“We believe that these new guidelines will provide realistic and practical guidance to help governments work with the informal sector and gradually transform it to support the population in a safe and sustainable way.”

The draft guidelines were developed following recommendations from the AU. Continental Food Security Strategy for Africa, published in 2021 to encourage improved food security management.

Although compliance with food safety standards has improved for products exported from Africa, progress has been limited with respect to the domestic informal sector, which is generally fragmented and under-resourced.

“Western approaches to improving food security, which include compliance with strict requirements and involve complex documentation processes, are only really suitable for the formal sector, which is regularized and has sufficient financial resources,” said Silvia AlonsoSenior Scientific Epidemiologist, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

“The reality is that most African consumers buy food from the informal sector, which requires different approaches to food safety management. With the right support, governments can make the informal food sector a conduit for healthy and safe food for all and a source of decent and dignified employment for men and women, especially youth, in Africa.

The guidelines build on ILRI’s research and interventions to improve food security across Africa. This included a “push-pull” approach in Burkina Fasowhich involved both food hygiene training for chicken grillers as well as consumer awareness campaigns, and inclusive professionalization of the informal dairy sector in Kenya through training and marketing.

The AU and ILRI will consult informal sector stakeholders and partners to help refine the guidelines starting June 10. The consultation process with Member States will continue throughout 2024 and 2025 before the framework is presented to the AU political organs for approval in 2025.

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