“If you give bad food to your stomach, it drums for you to dance.” So goes the African proverb associated with food safety. While it could be said that all 1.1 billion Africans share the implications of this adage, Africa is definitely a continent of contrasts, says Lucia Anelich, PhD, principal of Anelich Consulting, Pretoria, South Africa.
“We have a number of countries relying on subsistence farming and predominantly street food vending to feed their populations,” Dr. Anelich begins. “Other African countries are more developed in varying degrees. Only a few have formalized agriculture, with first world commercial farms and associated support industries such as fertilizer, seed, and crop management companies, and also well-developed manufacturing and retail sectors offering the consumer a wide variety of food products.”
According to Dr. Anelich, South Africa is the most developed country on the African continent, boasting a solid infrastructure, and a well-established formal food production, food processing and manufacturing, and food retail system, with supporting regulations she characterizes as the continent’s most advanced legislation in terms of food safety.
“South Africa has a well-established farming, food manufacturing and retail sector that caters to the domestic, regional, and international markets,” she elaborates. There are multinational companies that operate food production plants in many African countries, but South Africa remains the most developed in this regard.”
The continent of Africa consists of 54 very diverse countries. Covering 11.7 million square miles, the landmass of the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent is larger than the U.S., China, Japan, India, and Europe combined. Of note, Africa boasts what is believed to be the world’s largest combination of density and range of freedom of wild animal populations and diversity, with wild populations of large carnivores, including lions, hyenas and cheetahs; and herbivores such as buffalo, elephants, camels, and giraffes, all ranging freely on primarily open, non-private plains.
Despite its abundant natural resources, including the valuable chemical elements cobalt, platinum, gold, chromium, and uranium, plus diamonds and other minerals, Africa is the world’s poorest and most underdeveloped continent. The causes may include corrupt governments that have often committed serious human rights violations, failed central planning, high levels of illiteracy, lack of access to foreign capital, and frequent tribal and military conflicts ranging from guerrilla warfare to genocide.
Offering hope for greater cooperation and peace among the continent’s countries, the African Union (AU), a 54 member federation consisting of all of Africa’s states except Morocco was formed on June 26, 2001, with Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as its headquarters.
Operating under a parliamentary government with legislative, judicial, and executive bodies, the AU is devoted to transforming the African Economic Community, a federated commonwealth, into a state under established international conventions. To that end, the government of the AU consists of all-union (federal), regional, state, and municipal authorities.
African economies are growing, and thus food economy and international trade in food is becoming an integral part of that economic growth, Dr. Anelich says.
To that end, cocoa, coffee, cassavas, yams, mangos, and bananas, which are normally raw produce, are some key export commodities from a number of African countries, according to Courage Kosi Setsoafia Saba, PhD, a lecturer in food microbiology and food safety with the University for Development Studies (UDS) in Tamale, Ghana.
“Countries in Africa are becoming more involved in regional and international trade in order to generate foreign currency,” Dr. Anelich relates. “To that end, a certain level of food safety must be achieved before food trade can occur. Moreover, when countries can supply safe and nutritious food for their domestic markets, they are better able to ensure adequate health and growth of their respective populations so citizens can then contribute in a meaningful way to long-term economic growth of that country.”