ESAFF calls for efforts to promote food safety to avert food-borne infections 

(Last Updated On: 18 July 2023)

By Kei Emmanuel Duku

Moyo I World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that about 125,000, 40 per cent of children below age five die globally as a result of food-borne infections.

Food-borne diseases are illnesses contracted after eating contaminated food or beverages. They are also referred to as “poisonous food”. Some of the sicknesses contracted from eating tainted food include Hepatitis B, viral gastroenteritis, listeriosis, and trichinosis, among others.

According to WHO, the most affected populations are children, pregnant women and migrants who are directly affected by conflict and lack clean food to eat.

It is also estimated that about 600 million various food types consumed globally are unsafe thus 400,000 people fall sick globally as a result of eating poisonous food.

With the ever-increasing population, which is estimated that by 2050 global population will reach 9.7 billion, this has spiked debate that many countries especially those with low and middle-income statuses will struggle to provide clean and safe food for the local population to consume, hence leading to more deaths.

Food and Agricultural Origination (FAO) further noted that out of the 420,000 deaths registered yearly – worldwide, at least 1 out of 10 people fall sick with the majority of the affected population found in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

However, it stresses that for countries to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (No.3, Good Health and Well-Being), providing clean, safe and nutritious food for the local population is critical.

“Comparable to severe diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, food-borne diseases have a similar global burden,” adds FAO.

Yearly, about two-thirds of the countries in Africa alone spent about $16.7 billion in treating illnesses related to food-borne diseases arising from virus and bacterial infections, while other low and middle-income countries spend about $110 billion annually on treatment resulting from tainted food-related complications.

Uganda, like any other African country, is one whose food chain system is crippling with many challenges right from production, storage and distribution.

Even after the establishment of institutions like the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) and other agencies to monitor the quality of food items produced and consumed by the local population, there have been cases of aflatoxins in beans and g-nuts, among others.

There are various ways food chains can get contaminated and, according to small-scale farmers in Uganda, poor road network, inadequate power and poor storage facilities, among others greatly contribute to significant wastage of agricultural produces before reaching the final consumer.

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But, to prevent the local population from consuming contaminated food, the government needs to take proactive measures, especially in processing, handling and storage.

Call for action in framing methods and other systems of food handling.

On Wednesday, June 7, 2023, Uganda joined the rest of the World in commemorating World Food Safety Day (WFSD) under the theme: “Food standards save lives” with its ultimate goal to create awareness on how society can detect, prevent and take action against food-borne diseases.

While observing the day, small scales farmers across the country said that modern methods of farming such as the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers have adverse effects on the health of consumers, producers and the environment at large, this is because of the toxin they produce.

“Unsafe food intake is a growing public health concern in Uganda, having an adverse effect on infants, expectant mothers, the elderly, young children, and those with underlying medical conditions. Although the country has made strides in ensuring a safer environment for food safety and lowering the burden of foodborne illness, much work still needs to be done,” reads the statement on the commemoration day.

Masudio Margaret, the publicity secretary of Eastern and Southern Africa Small-scale Farmers Forum (ESSAF Uganda), an organization working with small-scale farmers said that over one-third of food produced in various parts of the country is lost or wasted due to poor post-harvest handling, poor road network adding on limited power systems for value additions are some of the contributing factors to food contamination.

She further said farmers have transitioned to modern methods of farming such as mechanized systems that use tractors and clearing of large sizes of land for agriculture destroying ecosystems than the local farming practices.

Masudio also said to avert the damage to the environment, farmers can adopt organic farming which helps in restoring the health of farmers, plants and soil.

“Through improving the relationship between plants, animals, soil, people, and the environment, agroecology emerges as the most sustainable approach to production, encouraging the use of less harmful inputs. In turn, this enhances and restores the ecosystem’s functionality, ensuring food and nutrition security,” she noted.

Many farmers today view agroecology as the best way towards clean and safe food systems because it allows farmers to practice growing trees alongside crops. It also helps demonstrate how food production and natures co-exist simply because farmers can collect compost manures from cow dung and use them as fertilizers to eliminate the use of industrial fertilizers.

It’s on this ground that ESAFF Uganda is urging various stakeholders to transition to agroecological farming methods because this not only helps improve the health of farmers but also restores soil quality and protects microorganisms such as earthworms that help in soil aeration.

“In Uganda, efforts in achieving organic farming that protects conserves and guarantees a clean food system requires a multi-sectoral approach where farmers need to be educated and trained on better farming systems while at the national level government need to pass legislation that prohibits production and importations of industrial agro-chemicals as well as setting standards that monitor producers and safeguard consumers from eating contaminated food.

“Government should strengthen the implementation of agricultural policies and practices, food control systems and strengthen the food supply chain by giving proper treatment, which includes transportation and storage, industrial practices, and other things and establishing specialized institutions such as farmers’ cooperative banks to offer funding to small-scale farmers as well as strengthening infrastructural development,” ESAFF said.

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