RAISE-FS organized National Food Safety System Assessment Validation meeting with the objective of presenting findings, validating possible recommendations, and prioritizing key points to be addressed and stakeholders to be involved.
An opening speech and introduction to the RAISE-FS project were given by Dr. Dawit Alemu, the project manager and country representative for SWR Ethiopia. He said in his introduction that the nation has a diverse range of agroclimatic conditions that allow it to produce almost all types of crops. But according to Dr. Dawit, there are a number of reasons why the nation isn’t making the most of its potential. Such platforms, he continued, would facilitate to assess the opportunities and difficulties facing the Ethiopian food system. He added that the validation meeting will focus on validating the food safety system assessment results, prioritizing actionable points, and sharing responsibilities.
The consultant who conducted the assessment, Dr. Abebe Ayelign, presented the overview and findings of the assessment. According to Dr. Abebe, the assessment was conducted on the poultry, potato, pulses, oil seeds, and spice sub-sectors. The assessment was done based on the five main pillars or categories that make up a national food safety system as per the Food and Agriculture Organization. The pillars are: 1) food laws and regulations, 2) official food control management, 3) inspection and certification, 4) official food control laboratory, and 5) information, education, communication, and training. A literature review and key informant interviews were used to gather information for the assessment.
According to the five pillars of the national food safety system, major challenges identified to ensure food control management includs frequent turnover of officials, budget constraints, and a lack of awareness about food safety. Ethiopia lacks a national food safety law, responsibilities are dispersed across institutions, there are no safety standards for some food types, less attention is paid to pesticides, and some regulations are outdated and do not reflect current reality. There is no regulation and law enforcement for poultry slaughtering, no strong inspection and regulation system in the perspectives of specific food value chain, regulatory mandates overlap between Ethiopian Agricultural Authority and Ethiopia Food and Drug Authority, and no strong coordination and collaboration with all legally mandated food safety sectors for food inspection and certification. The availability and service of official food control laboratories are limited by biomedical engineers’ limited knowledge of how to maintain lab equipment, lack of lab equipment, reagents, chemicals, and spare parts, lack of collaboration to access and use lab facilities, lack of access to exact specifications for purchasing lab equipment, and a limited number of accredited labs in the country. In terms of communication and training, there is no food safety awareness at any point along the value chain, no risk communication platform, limited media coverage of food safety, and food safety issues are not well integrated into the education curriculum.
The participants then discussed a few clarity-related concerns. Participants consented that that almost every challenge brought up is a true reflection of the situation on the ground. They emphasized that there is a conflict of interest among the institutions as well as scattered responsibility among public institutions, which is a significant challenge. They questioned the justification for the commodities selected in the assessment and raised clarification concerns. In response to the concerns, Dr. Abebe stated that the commodities selected for the assessment are RAISE-FS project priority commodities and they also prone to food safety problems. Additionally, they mentioned how the federal government’s structure made it difficult to have a robust national system for food safety because of how autonomous regions are.
After that, participants divided into groups to discuss each of the five pillars of the food safety system. The groups generally agreed with the suggestions made in the study and added some additional recommendations to strengthen the country’s food safety system. The establishment of a national working group on food safety has been discussed and agreed upon. Then, individuals from EFDA, MoA, Agriculture Authority, Ethiopian Conformity Assessment, Ethiopian Public Health Institute, Addis Abeba University, Alliance of Bioversity International, CIAT, EIAR, and SWR Ethiopia have formed the working group.
Finally, participants expressed their gratitude for SWR Ethiopia’s RAISE-FS project for bringing the issue of food safety to light. They mentioned their concern that the population is experiencing food safety-related health issues, but the issue of food safety isn’t receiving the attention it deserves. They expressed their wish for the national working group to act as a crucial platform for advocacy of a strengthened food safety system.
The workshop held on 6th of December 2022 at Azzeman hotel, Addis Ababa. More than 20 participants constituted from key national food safety system actors, NGOs, private sectors and SWR Ethiopia.