As preparations get underway for the high level conference on the Better Training for Safer Food (BTSF) programme on 18-19 November in Brussels, we speak to two key contributors on what this programme means for Africa. Sharing with us their views and hopes for the future are Mr Moustapha Magumu from the EU delegation to the AU and Dr Sarah Olembo from the Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union.
Where does food safety fit in to Africa’s overall development?
“Agriculture is one of Africa’s key economic sectors. Strong trade in this sector relies to a large extent on high sanitary and phyto-sanitary protection levels. Ensuring these SPS levels are high and that rules are enforced throughout the continent is essential to build consumers’ confidence, both in Africa and abroad. By improving standards and continuing the work underway as part of the BTSF programme, regional integration in Africa will become stronger and the foodstuffs market will become truly dynamic. The desired outcome is products from Africa being eaten anywhere in the world.” (Mr Moustapha Magumu)
Much of the food sold on the African market goes uninspected, precisely because of this lack of awareness and expertise. Also, there is little enforcement of the few laws in place. By creating awareness among small businesses, consumers and inspectors, it is possible to report cases of noncompliance.
Dr. Sarah Olembo
To what extent is the need for food safety training recognised in Africa?
“We are very much aware of the need to increase the capacity of our higher education institutes. We need to train up young scientists so that there is no shortfall when the current generation of scientists retires. At business level, we welcome networking opportunities that allow for shared knowledge to help meet market demands and build up weaker businesses. We also need to build up our consumer associations and to raise awareness among the African peoples of the notion of safe foods. This will help us gain the critical mass required to improve our quality standards. It will provide a driving force towards greater food safety.” (Dr Sarah Olembo)
What do you consider to be the major challenges to be overcome?
“A recent report from the EU Commission's Food and Veterinary Office found that the most common deficiencies relate to ensuring legislative and infrastructure compliance. These deficiencies need to be overcome for the successful integration, diversification and competitiveness of the agro-food sector. Ensuring common principles and inspection methodologies are adhered to will put an end to the costly border checks, onerous certification and significant non-tariff trade barriers.” (Mr Moustapha Magumu)
How does the BTSF programme operate?
“The programme is coordinated jointly by the EU and AU Commission, in close collaboration with the African Regional Economic Communities and states. Each African country has appointed a national contact who coordinates activities at country level with the EU Delegation. The training sessions involve international experts including some from the African continent, as well as international organisations. This ensures that all those interested are involved.
The programme creates an opportunity to network and exchange best practices to improve the harmonisation of food hygiene inspections, as well as to strengthen the national veterinary services. For instance, so far, there have been ten regional workshops (each lasting five days) to discuss food hygiene issues. There has also been involvement from 17 European experts and 56 African experts. As many as 1560 days training assistance has been given to 1000 people from 56 small businesses in 26 African countries.” (Mr Moustapha Magumu)
Which areas would say the programme has helped the most?
“The programme has helped to raise awareness about SPS and the need to inspect. Much of the food sold on the African market goes uninspected, precisely because of this lack of awareness and expertise. Also, there is little enforcement of the few laws in place. By creating awareness among small businesses, consumers and inspectors, it is possible to report cases of noncompliance.” (Dr Sarah Olembo)
As the world's largest single market and the largest importer of agricultural products from Africa, the EU takes responsibility to pass on best practices and to share its experience with Africa seriously. It is essential that Africa too, benefits from the advantages of high food standards, open markets for food products and peace of mind for its consumers.
Dr. Moustaph Maguma
To what extent is the programme contributing to common rules?
“One of the activities undertaken was to train the trainers and to harmonise SPS frameworks across Africa. As a result, a referential has been prepared. The idea behind this is to harmonise food hygiene inspections. A related guide has been drafted which shows trainers how to implement the referential. This will increase mutual recognition between competent authorities at national and regional levels by promoting common certification systems and frameworks compatible with international standards. Certain Regional Economic Communities and states are now considering how best to implement these common principles as of 2011 onwards.” (Mr Moustapha Magumu)
How would you describe the Africa-EU partnership in this domain?
“In the EU we believe that Africa has the capacity to face up to these sanitary and phyto-sanitary challenges. And, we are committed to help where we can. For this reason, EU Health and Consumer Commissioner, John Dalli and AU Rural Economy and Agriculture Commissioner, Mrs Rhoda Peace Tumusiime are working together with the Regional Economic Communities and states to share experiences and best practices, reinforcing the institutionalisation of food safety policies across Africa.” (Mr Moustapha Magumu)
“I call it a success story that can be emulated in other areas of Africa-EU cooperation.” (Dr Sarah Olembo)
What impact will the programme developments have on trade?
“In providing this training, we aim to improve African food safety systems to the benefit of consumers and businesses. Not only is this in keeping with EU obligations under the WTO/SPS Agreement, but it is also key to trade both within Africa and with the rest of the world. It has been estimated that in some African countries, the average import procedure may take up to 124 days compared to 12 days on average in an OECD country.
Therefore, as the world's largest single market and the largest importer of agricultural products from Africa, the EU takes responsibility to pass on best practices and to share its experience with Africa seriously. It is essential that Africa too, benefits from the advantages of high food standards, open markets for food products and peace of mind for its consumers.” (Mr Moustapha Magumu)
What is the focus of the high level international conference to be held on 18-19 November?
“This conference will bring together about 200 participants both from the EU and Africa, Regional Economic Communities, EU and AU institutions and specialised offices, international standards setting bodies, academia, and other third countries and stakeholders. This will ensure a specialised input to take stock of progress made, learn from experience, to harness political impetus for future activities to improve food safety, strengthening trade and regional integration in Africa.” (Mr Moustapha Magumu)
“I am hoping for renewed impetus in giving food safety the place and importance it deserves in food security and food nutrition in Africa.” (Dr Sarah Olembo)