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Opinion: Towards sustainable agriculture, food safety

2021-07-30  Staff Reporter

Opinion: Towards sustainable agriculture, food safety

Significant increases in food production over the 20th century have contributed to the improvement of many farmers’ livelihoods and to economic growth. However, the distribution of benefits from increased agricultural output has been inequitable. The gains have come with disproportionate environmental, cultural, health and social costs, depleting natural capital and degrading human well-being. 

In order to help meet development and sustainability goals, food must be safe and wholesome to consume. Effective, coordinated and proactive national, regional and international food safety systems can improve plant, animal and human health. 

Agricultural knowledge, science and technology (AKST) can play an important role when used within effective regulatory frameworks with sufficient resources. Among the requirements for achieving human health and sustainability goals are greater investments in adequate food safety infrastructure, public health and veterinary capacity; legislative frameworks for identification and control of biological and chemical hazards, and farmer-scientist partnerships for identification, monitoring and evaluation of risks. 

The agricultural component of bilateral assistance for developing countries grew 16% in 1985 but had declined to 4% by 2003. Recently, however, there has been a renewed interest among donors to use agriculture to promote economic growth and poverty reduction. 

Agriculture in the 21st century will have to address crucial challenges to reduce global hunger, poverty and environmental harm, including climate change, by maintaining and enhancing environmental and cultural services, while increasing sustainable productivity and safeguarding nutritional quality and the diversity of food and farming systems. 

The International Assessment of Agriculture Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) took an objective view of the long-term challenges facing world agriculture and considered how these might be addressed by the development and appropriate use of agricultural knowledge, science and technology, learning from past experiences and current understanding. 

This policy brief presents some of the IAASTD key findings and illustrates ways of addressing the challenges, highlighting relevant policy and institutional responses. Challenges human health: foodborne disease is estimated to affect 30% of the population in industrialised countries at some time in a given year. 

In developing countries, the foodborne disease accounts for an estimated 2.1 million deaths annually.

 Significant under-reporting leads experts to estimate that the incidence of foodborne disease may be substantially higher than the number of cases reported worldwide. About 50% of the health burden of malnutrition has been attributed to poor water, sanitation and hygiene, including food hygiene.

 Foodborne diseases, either caused by pests, pesticides or improper storage, pose a major health threat to sub-Saharan Africa, which suffers the highest levels of foodborne illness anywhere in the world. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) African region was estimated to have the highest burden of foodborne diseases per population. More than 91 million people are estimated to fall ill and 137 000 die each year. On 29 January 2019, a cluster of students from Oshakati Secondary School, Namibia reported to the casualty department of Oshakati Hospital with a history of acute diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. 

It was thoroughly investigated to verify the outbreak, identify potential sources and implement control measures. This foodborne outbreak at Oshakati Secondary School was caused by giardia lamblia trophozoites and B. coli. Eating soup was significantly associated with illness. It was recommended the environmental division to routinely inspect the school kitchen and conduct analysis on municipal water furthermore, educated food handlers on food safety and wash hands. The African Union, for example, established the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) in 2014. 

PACA helps governments regulate their food systems by strengthening regulatory enforcement, raising awareness among smallholder farmers about correct storage of fresh produce and investing in technologies to test and control aflatoxin levels. National, prioritisation of the needs of resource-poor farmers may be more important in the future if the extent of scientific and agricultural technology spill overs from developed to developing countries decreases. 

Governments may wish to align public sector AKST funding to support research explicitly directed to improving small-scale, diversified farming practices that promote improved yields and enhanced food safety through sustainable pest management practices. Plant protection options that successfully manage pest populations and minimise the adverse human health impacts sometimes associated with synthetic pesticides, which include increasing institutional and policy support for and investment in participatory, agro ecologically-based pest management research, extension and education. 

To end, the shift of public and private AKST towards choices that combine productivity and protection of public health, natural resources and ecosystems, and that return a greater proportion of the profits from food and farming industries to small-scale and rural labourers – increased diversity of crops and seed providers with capacities and rights to innovate maintained locally. This leads to improved nutrition, security and resilience to environmental stresses and climate change. Traditional knowledge and the work of indigenous communities are valued in reducing poverty.

2021-07-30  Staff Reporter

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