In just a decade, the population of Mbeya has grown from 385,279 to 620,000 inhabitants according to the 2022 national census. However, the city's urban infrastructure is struggling to keep pace with this rapid growth. With such an influx of people, ensuring that everyone, especially those in the most vulnerable situations, has access to safe and nutritious food becomes more urgent every day. Find out how Rikolto and its partners are starting to drive collaborative change in the city's public markets.
In 2021, Rikolto conducted a study on the contamination levels of fruit and vegetables in several public markets in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania. The study found biological contaminants such as E. coli, S. aureus, and Salmonella, and lead levels five times higher than recommended standards in various foods. While these results shed light on the many food safety risks, we know it is only one side of the coin.
The risks of food contamination are everywhere. So, mainstreaming good food safety practices requires a change from the production and distribution level to local and national policies that regulate and incentivise these practices.
The global numbers of foodborne illnesses and deaths due to contaminated food continue to be alarming. Moreover, the evidence of the link between nutrition and food safety is clear. We may eat nutrient-rich vegetables, but they may be contaminated at the market due to the inferior quality of the water used to clean them. Healthy food is both nutritious and safe to eat.
Now let us consider the added impact of climate change. Excessive rainfall can damage or spoil crops, droughts affect irrigation water quality, and high temperatures increase pest populations, potentially leading smallholder farmers to rely more on agrochemicals. Changes in temperature can also prompt farmers to switch crops, impacting food security.
A multitude of factors, actors, and interactions need to be addressed and harmonised to ensure access to safe and nutritious food for urban dwellers.
In, 2020, Rikolto helped create the Mbeya Food Smart City Platform, known in Swahili as Jukwaa la Usalama wa Chakula Mbeya.
Established with the Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture (TCCIA) and the Mbeya City Council (MCC), the platform gathers NGOs, agrifood businesses, government departments, and farmers' associations.
This multi-stakeholder process, supported by the AGRI-CONNECT programme funded by the European Union, is facilitating shared understanding, dialogue, and coordination to address Mbeya's food system challenges, including food safety.
Building on the platform's strategy, in 2023 Rikolto and its partners launched a pilot for an adapted participatory guarantee system to ensure safe fresh fruit and vegetables in the traditional markets of Soweto and Sokoine.
A participatory guarantee system, or PGS, is a mutual validation system where farmers, consumers, and other city or local authorities check their peers and themselves to guarantee food quality. This avoids an expensive third-party control system. It has many advantages such as: its participatory approach, it is less costly, it reduces the administrative burden, and it is designed to build capacity among stakeholders along with mutual trust.
What makes this model different from other participatory guarantee systems for organic farming, is the focus on safe production and food handling. Rikolto and partners refer to it as a Participatory Food Safety System (PFSS).This adapted system of the global GAP standard not only looks at on-farm practices but involves actors and practices along the entire value chain.
Traditional markets are the first point of access to food for the majority of Tanzanian citizens; therefore, market vendors are crucial participants in the system.
The pilot involved farmers from Kalobe, Igawilo, Mwakibete, and Igale clusters, market vendors from Soweto and Sokoine markets, and platform members including the Mbeya City Council's (MCC), TCCIA, and food safety expert Kilicert. The training was conducted using the training of trainers (ToT) model, where trained farmer and vendor leaders would train their peers.
Members of the Platform's food safety and hygiene sub-committee took on the role of the council to follow up on the pilot, along with Rikolto and other stakeholders. They also received training on the PFSS.
The process was aligned with the fruit and vegetable harvest cycles. A four-month experimental phase was agreed upon, between September 2022 and March 2023, with a plan for a six-month cycle once the system is more established. By the end of the first project cycle, ten nuclei of farmers and five of vendors were created.
The brand and logo “Chakula Bora-Safi Na Salama” were designed in a participatory way to encourage a sense of belonging among participants and to identify produce assessed in the PFSS within the market.
The pilot operates under the assumption that consumers will be more interested in safe produce if it is available at the same price as regular produce. If consumers end up choosing safer produce, this would mean a potential increase in sales and higher incomes for farmers and vendors. Apart from the moral commitment to providing healthy food, this serves as an incentive for them to participate in the PFSS.
To further strengthen the visibility of the initiative and to improve internal communication among the participants, an online map was developed.
"In the last two years, I have worked with the vendors from the Soweto market I have seen how their participation in the platform and various food safety activities have changed in the market area. They have started wearing working coats, cleaning the market environment but also communicating with various city departments about market services such as waste collection and enforcement of bylaws." - Lilian Mbilinyi, Mbeya Food Smart City Platform coordinator for TCCIA.
As the PFSS initiative in Tanzania takes its first steps, Rikolto and its partners have already gained valuable insights from the initial cycle. Drawing from these successes and challenges, we are working on the second cycle in Mbeya:
“By making sure everyone is on board on PFSS, we succeeded in completing all the steps of the PFSS cycle within one harvest season and adopting a practical approach to problem-solving or system setup ambiguities observed by different actors.” Lisa De Vos, project coordinator of Rikolto.
Furthermore, in Arusha, while the first cycle is still underway, our friends at Iles De Paix (IDP) and the regional farmers' umbrella organisation MVIWAARUSHA have joined forces enthusiastically under our "Chakula Bora-Safi Na Salama" logo.
“We have made a preliminary calculation of the average market price of PFSS produce for this first cycle, focusing primarily on human resources. We will make a second calculation in the second phase, and we expect to have a full cost of the model after the third cycle.” - Shukuru Tweve, project coordinator of Rikolto