We all enjoy a delicious meal, but is our food also safe for consumption? It can be unsafe due to hidden biological or chemical matter hidden. From sight or smell only, consumers cannot determine whether the food on their plate is safe, but food scientists can. Rikolto conducted food safety studies for fresh fruits and vegetables in Arusha, Iringa and Mbeya in collaboration with Tanzania Plant Health and Pesticides Authority and Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology. The results point at many food safety challenges, with unsafe levels of biological and chemical matter detected in fresh fruits and vegetables. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables therefore – often unknowingly – exposes people to over 200 diseases such as cancers, food poisoning and typhoid. Food can only become safe when safe practices are employed across the food chain. A lot of work is needed by all actors from farm to plate, hand in hand with strengthening food safety regulations to ensure that the food on our plate, is good food.
Funded by the European Union’s flagship programme AGRI-CONNECT, Rikolto, Agrónomos sin Fronteras, Inades-Formation Tanzania, MIICO Consortium and Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA) Mbeya are implementing the project “Building Inclusive and Competitive Horticulture Businesses in Tanzania’s Southern Highlands”. Within the project, Rikolto and its partners are improving food safety throughout the food system in Iringa, Njombe, Mbeya, Songwe and Katavi. We also specifically want to empower 400 youth to take up a game changing role in the food system by strengthening their businesses on food safety and sustainability as part of the Generation Food Accelerator – a business incubator.
To address food safety challenges on the farm, Rikolto and its partners are training 30,000 farmers in the Southern Highlands to improve farming practices and transition to sustainable food production that’s good for people, profit, and planet. Farmers are coached on safe and correct fertilizer and pesticide use, proper sanitation, nutrition sensitive practices, and good food handling to ensure quality and food safety. So far, we have trained over 10,000 farmers on sustainable practices with the support of 245 extension workers that have been coached on food safety and hygiene. Together with Agrónomos sin Fronteras, we have also invested in 13 greenhouses that enhance pest control and limit potential cross-contamination and 337 demonstration plots open for farmers to see proper pesticide use, food handling and harvesting interval for fresh fruits and vegetables in practice.
We are also investing in short food supply chains to shorten the road from farm to consumer drastically, by supporting SMEs that aggregate at farm gate and distribute to consumers. This makes it easier to trace where your food comes from and ensure its quality and safety. We are engaging food vendors in shops and on markets as important links to guarantee food safety and traceability. While we have been training food vendors and improving food stalls to enhance food safety in Arusha, we have taken market improvement and safe kiosks to another level in Mbeya. Together with TCCIA Mbeya and Mbeya City Council, we are improving market infrastructure in Sokoine, Soweto and Igawilo market: Constructing 273 new food stalls with co-investments from vendors, renewing roofing, and putting in place fruit and vegetable washing areas with clean water.
Because food safety is everyone’s business, we’re leading multi-stakeholder platforms in Mbeya and Arusha to design and set up a system where everyone is involved in guaranteeing food safety. Such a system is needed because commonly recognized certifications, such as Global Good Agricultural Practices Certification, are expensive, export-oriented and inaccessible to smallholder farmers. We designed a Participatory Food Safety System that works for the Tanzanian market, as a tool to raise awareness, train farmers and food handlers, and ensure food safety from farm to consumer. It is a local standard for food safety agreed by all stakeholders. Rikolto and TCCIA Mbeya are piloting this system with a focus on fresh produce and its high health risks. We decided to start with capacity and trust building rather than enforcement because the lack of trust between food handlers is so high.
Finally, together with TCCIA Mbeya Inades-Formation and MIICO, we are also educating consumers to be aware of food safety risks and how to address them. Within these food safety and nutrition campaigns, farmers and consumers received messages – either via push messages, radio campaigns or village health and nutrition days – about cleaning, conserving and consuming safe food. The high engagement of listeners during live radio sessions only proves that consumers really care about food safety once they are aware of its importance and health risks. Through these campaigns, consumers gain knowledge and power to drive food system change.