Ensuring Food safety in markets is key in attaining food security

Food connects all of us and other living things. In fact, there is no living thing on earth that doesn’t eat. This means that everyone needs food at all times. Thus food needs to be available, accessible, affordable, safe, and of preference to the individuals that need it.

However, with the rising population, unequal incomes, and changing lifestyles, food has become one of the most traded commodities that has increasingly gained economic and political vitality. Despite it being one of the most essential needs that is physiological as put by Abraham Maslow, business owners and leaders are using their powers to control its means of production, movement, storage, processing, and sale.

I think nearly 90% of the urban and peri-urban populace in Uganda obtain their foods from local community markets situated near their homes while others get from supermarkets and grocery shops that mainly deal with imported food products from many locations. These two categories of markets are also accessed by two different groups of consumers, the poor and the wealthy i.e. the majority poor dominate the local community markets while the few wealthy obtain more of their foods from the supermarkets and grocery shops.

Even when food is affordable in either type of market, food safety which is a salient aspect of food security indicates that these markets may make food available, accessible and affordable but do not deliver food security to all because they deliver foods that are not fit for human consumption. This is because food needs to be safe and of good quality for proper nourishment and health, a very strong component of food security as per the FAO definition, 2001. Therefore hygiene and handling of food in these markets should be of great concern to every consumer as poor handling deteriorates food quality.

Food quality drops along the chains and it drops much further in local food markets. This is because they are poorly regulated and have low investments in food safety infrastructures, leading to both economic loss and higher health risks associated with aflatoxin and mycotoxin development that greatly contribute to carcinogenic ailments (cancer- related illnesses). According to the World Health Organsation, unsafe food generally creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, particularly affecting infants, young children, the elderly, and the sick.

There is however a big disconnect among initiatives to eliminate food insecurity due to a strong inclination to theoretical understanding of food systems approach at the expense of practical application of these concepts. Unless one takes a 360 degree view of food security, there will be expertise bias on understanding and efforts of addressing food security at all levels as agricultural experts may concentrate on increasing production, economists on revenue variables, health experts may focus on nutrition and so on.

Food access and availability is not just the responsibility of an individual or limited groups of individuals. Many people, institutions, and structures are involved in having food on the table and the list is endless as you find farmers, input dealers, transporters, food processors, distributors, hotels & restaurants, food vendors, urban planners, policymakers, CSOs and, government authorities interfacing with foods in various ways.

The unfortunate part is that less safety precautions are taken while interfacing with foods yet clean and safe food is the beginning of health. This argument is backed by one of the quotes I read on a friend’s Facebook and WhatsApp pages that, “people need to start eating their foods with the mind that they are eating medicine before their health deteriorate to the level where they begin to eat their medicines as their foods”.

Due to the growing population and urbanization, there is a high concentration of people in urban centers where most economic activities take place. This stimulates food demand in urban centers that escalate the growth of markets both numerically and in size. It is high time actors strengthened collaborations and design market driven food security interventions to minimize food loss, foodborne ailments, increase consumers’ sensitivity to food safety to spur changes down to food chain segments such as stores, transporters, processing units, farms etc., this is critical for achieving food security in a more collaborative and holistic way, because food security is both a right and precondition for sustainable development.