Over the years from working in rural communities, I have come to realize that food safety issues are mostly not important to smallholder farmers and local traders as compared to quality issues. This is because food safety parameters are mostly invisible and can only be ascertained through laboratory analysis unlike quality parameters that can easily be observed. Also, there is no strong and efficient monitoring system (regulatory bodies) in place within the local market that proactively monitors food produce especially raw materials compared to processed food products.

Interestingly, the dynamics change completely, that is, food safety issues become a major concern when exporting to high-end markets, especially the European and North America (especially US and Canada) markets. Sadly, the majority of our food being exported to these markets are the best produce (in terms of safety and quality), and we are left with the remaining ones. In recent times, we are recording spikes in food borne illnesses which are linked to the consumption of unsafe food (mostly from consumption of high chemical residue food and poor handling practices). This situation is very troubling especially for our children who consume this product in different forms. We need an urgent intervention to ensure that food safety issues become one of our priorities in the current administration (also, there are still rejections in the international markets).

Relevant stakeholders need to proactively develop solutions to tackle food safety issues at the various stages of the food supply chains, as without it, food security can not be achieved. We need to review our current food safety framework and incorporate the farm level phase as a key component to manage; providing technical knowledge to farmers, establishing private-public partnership for monitoring oversight and providing more incentive to farmers and organizations that promote food safety standards. This is an urgent call that requires immediate attention in order to reduce the occurrence of food borne illnesses and help improve our productivity and competitiveness both locally and internationally. We need our food to be medicine ALWAYS to our body.