New guidelines are under development to support African governments striving to improve food safety across the continent’s vast informal food sector. This effort, led by the African Union (AU) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), represents the continent’s first-ever framework for addressing the unique safety challenges faced by the informal food sector.

Africa’s informal food sector is critical for maintaining food security and providing employment, especially for the continent’s urban poor. Roughly 70 percent of Africa’s urban households buy food from informal markets, which includes street vendors, kiosks, traditional market sellers, and similar establishments.

However, food safety in Africa’s domestic markets, including informal markets, has been historically neglected and mismanaged. Approximately 90 million Africans become sick from foodborne illness every year, costing an estimated $16 billion USD in productivity losses. In comparison, the international community invests just $55 million USD per year in food safety projects on the continent.

The new guidelines seek to reflect the realities of African food systems to improve the ways in which African governments engage the informal food sector about food safety. Embracing the informal food sector as a cornerstone of food systems transformation is likely to play a key role in the post-Malabo agenda (the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth was adopted by the AU in 2014; the document contains concrete agriculture goals to be attained by 2025, with the goal of furthering African economic growth).

The draft guidelines have been developed following the AU’s continental-wide Food Safety Strategy for Africa, published in 2021 to encourage improvements in food safety management. Although compliance with food safety standards has improved in Africa’s exported goods, progress has been limited when it comes to the domestic informal sector, which is typically fragmented and under-resourced.

The guidelines are informed by ILRI’s research and interventions for improved food safety across Africa. This has included a “push-pull” approach in Burkina Faso, West Africa, which involved food hygiene training for chicken grillers and awareness campaigns for consumers. ILRI’s interventions have also involved inclusive professionalization of the informal milk sector in Kenya through training and marketing.

The AU and ILRI will consult with informal sector actors and partners to help refine the guidelines, beginning June 10, 2024. The consultation process with member states will continue throughout 2024 and 2025. The framework will be scheduled for presentation to the AU policy bodies for approval in 2025.