The drive to achieve the United Nations sustainable development goals, particularly, goal two, which primarily seeks to end hunger across the globe by the year 2030, made the PUNCH Media Foundation organise its PUNCH Webinar Series on Tuesday 28 June to mark the 2022 World Food Safety Day. The online event tagged, “Food Security, Nutrition, and Food Safety: The Role of Stakeholders in Achieving Better Health through Safer Food” was hosted on Zoom and streamed live on PUNCH Facebook.
Being the third in the PUNCH Webinar Series, a platform designed by the PUNCH Media Foundation to mark special United Nations (UN) world days towards creating awareness of and tackling issues that underpin the sustainable development goals, the foundation engaged stakeholders in the food chain in a focused discourse, geared towards attaining a sustainable solution in the quest for good food safety practices in Nigeria.
To set the tone for the panel discussion, there was a short video that featured facts about the current realities of the subject matter in Nigeria. Some of the concerns raised in the video include – high mortality among children in Nigeria as a result of food-borne diseases, worsening food insecurity and malnutrition. However, the video concluded that collaboration between the government and other players in the food chain would engender desirable changes.
Addressing issues around pre-harvest and post-harvest losses as major obstacles to achieving food security in Nigeria, Sulaimon Arigbabu, Executive Secretary, HEDA Resource Centre, pointed out that farmers in Nigeria lose about 40% of their harvest between the farm and the consumers due to unfavourable climatic conditions. He further stated that the poor information-seeking behaviour of farmers as well as the lack of structure on the part of the government to educate farmers on the right season to carry out their agricultural activities has made the matter worse. To also underscore the need for a transformation in the agricultural industry in Nigeria, Arigbabu stated that Nigeria’s per hectare yield for major farm produce like wheat, soya bean, rice, and maize is very low compared to other African countries like Egypt and South Africa.
Contributing to the conversation through the prism of an academic, Professor Ngozi Nnam, President, Federation of African Nutrition Societies (FANUS), defined food security as a situation in which people have access to sufficient food that meets their dietary needs for an active healthy life. She, however, noted that where people consume unsafe food, they suffer from a vicious cycle of diseases, malnutrition and food insecurity. To ensure that participants eat healthy and safe food, Nnam advised everyone to avoid food contamination by ensuring: the separation of raw food from cooked food, proper disposal of wastes, use of clean water for food preparation, among others. As with the food safety and nutrition of adults, Nnam noted that nursing mothers should ensure that their babies have exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of their birth as breastfeeding is safe for the newborns.
Beyond the rhetoric of achieving food security, Edu Ogbonnaya, Founder, Farm Awareness for Food Preservation Initiative (FAFPI), advanced that food security can only be achieved when farmers have the requisite knowledge of best agricultural practices coupled with financial and material support to engage such practices. Unfortunately, he observed that most farmers are only concerned about increasing food production without minding the safety of the process, which is a common practice. Thus, he charged farmers to be mindful of their practices as these contribute a great deal to food safety. Furthermore, he recommended organic farming, which is a system of farming that engages ecologically based pest controls and biological fertilizers, as one that guarantees food safety. He concluded his session by noting that his organisation supports Nigerian farmers in that capacity.
As a major actor in the food chain, who plays a significant role in ensuring that farm produce gets to the people, Chief Folashade Tinubu-Ojo, President-General, Association of Market Women and Men of Nigeria, represented by Mrs Mojisola Odusanya, a board member of the Lagos State Market Advisory Council, noted that her association puts some measures in place across markets in Lagos State to ensure the safety of food items that are brought to the market for sale. The measures, which include routine pest control, regular environmental sanitation, waste management, training and seminar for market women and men, are all put in place to ensure that items on sale are made available under a safe and hygienic condition as well as to ensure that there is no contamination of the edibles while they are being displayed for sale in the market.
Food safety cannot be said to be thoroughly addressed if the quick service restaurants and the hospitality industry are left out of the conversation. As such, Mr Ayotunde Ogunrinde, CEO/MD of JUSTFOOD was present to lend his voice to the conversation. He started by noting the three general principles that govern food safety in the QSR to include controlling time, temperature and preventing contamination. He went on to explain that any food that should be cold should be kept below 5⁰C and any food that should be kept hot should be above 60⁰C. While urging the government to emulate global best practices of regular inspection of the QSRs, he advised owners and management of QSRs to form the habit of self-inspection to ensure that what is being presented daily to the public is safe and healthy for consumption.