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ECOWAS in pursuit of food safety, security

By Itunu Ajayi
20 June 2016   |   1:20 am
From today till July 1, 2016, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will converge in Rome, Italy as participants in the 39th session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC).


ECOWAS member states met in Abuja recently to develop positions on the delivery of safe and standard food in the region. The conference is scheduled to hold in Rome between June and July.   ITUNU AJAYI (Abuja) reports on the preparation.

From today till July 1, 2016, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will converge in Rome, Italy as participants in the 39th session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC).

CAC was established in 1961 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in the international food trade.

The session will map out strategies aimed to deliver safe and standard food on the tables of citizens and residents in the sub-region.

Being a formidable voice on the bloc, Nigeria will join other fifteen member states to brainstorm on Codex standards at different stages of development with the view to adopting a position favourable to Africa.  Critical policy issues such as the implementation of the Codex Trust fund and the review of Codex work will also be discussed.

A prelude to this session was held last year in Geneva and delegations from ECOWAS held a side meeting to exchange exclusively on the issue of food safety in West Africa, and thoughts were exchanged on how to establish a sub-regional consultative mechanism for developing regional positions on codex issues.

The Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources of the African Union (AU-IBAR) is implementing the activity with the objective of facilitating effective participation of African countries in the activities of the World Organization for Animal Health OIE and CAC during the formulation of the proposed meeting in line with some laid down objectives of the strategic plan for Canadian Council of Africa (CCAfrica).

In other for ECOWAS to speak with one voice at the Rome meeting, member states met in Abuja recently to develop ECOWAS regional positions on issues to be discussed in Rome.  The Abuja meeting is expected to give birth to a provisional executive committee which will follow up on previous workshops recommendations and monitor activities and establish Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA) actors network of ECOWAS countries. The expected result would be ECOWAS common positions that would be developed and shared at the national level.

At the meeting, actors from West African countries that are involved in the sanitary and phytosanitary and food safety in the ECOWAS region agreed that it is imperative for the region to speak with one voice and ensure that the same standards ethic prevail across the board.

They also said agriculture produce from any member state would from henceforth be referred to as produce from ECOWAS and not necessarily tied to the country of origin. This they believe will continue to make the bounding among the region stronger.

They are of the opinion that with the potential inherent in the region, it would be easy for member states to participate in the standard setting process of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) which was established to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in food trade.

The principal programme officer agriculture division of the ECOWAS commission Ernest Aubee who represented the commissioner of agriculture Tchambakou Ayassor explained that sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) and food safety are critical issues for the transformation of West African agriculture.  He said the establishment of CAC have helped to set global standards for food safety issues around the world adding that the Codex standards are also relevant for the attainment of food security, promotion of sustainable human health and the development of national, regional and international trade.

He said the ECOWAS commission has placed the issue of SPS and food safety at the centre of its food security intervention as outlined in the commission’s Agriculture policy between 2015 and 2025.

Aubee stressed the imperativeness of the region leveraging on its over 350 million population to ensure that safe food are available to the population adding that this will alone address a number of health and nutrition concerns by the reducing the incidence of malnutrition and diseases.

He said the commission has taken a number of steps to support SPS and food security activities in the region which he said include the development of an ECOWAS SPS regulation, the implementation of a zero hunger project, strengthening of national SPS/codex committees through capacity building, capacity development on food safety for the ECOWAS  commission and member states and mainstreaming food safety and nutrition into new generation of Regional
Agriculture Investment Programme (RAIP) and  the National Association of Investigators and Process Servers (NAIPs).

Fantastic outlines and steps by the commission but one of the arguments that had punched holes in past instruments and protocols of the commission is its lumping of all ECOWAS member-states together for them to utilise one common instrument without recourse to their diversities. To this Aubee said care will be taken to allow member states develop their national SPS/codex policies with consideration of their differentials.

‘’Yes we realise that if we have fifteen different countries, we also have fifteen different contexts, the situation in Nigeria might defer from Senegal or Niger or any other country because of a host list of factors, such as  population, types of produce that people cultivate.  So what this regulation is set to do in general is to create an enabling environment for each country to address a given challenge.

“We cannot say the solution in Nigeria might be applicable to the Gambia, it is not possible but the regulation creates a platform that would allow the Gambia to utilise the regulation to address its problem, Nigeria, Cape Verde, Niger and all member states can use the regulation.  It only serves as a guide, as a template to address issues because no two countries are the same’’.

The standards organization of Nigeria (SON) said the stakeholders’ meeting will seek to take a unifying position that would serve as guidance for member countries in developing their national positions.

The regulatory agency maintained that Nigeria and indeed the whole of the ECOWAS region is endowed with enormous agricultural resources but access to Africa food products to the international market is dependent on their capacity to meet regulatory requirements which are generally based on the standards developed by the CAC.

The Nigeria Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Audu Ogbeh informed the gathering that the country places a strong emphasis on the development of agriculture as it is the engine of growth.  He said the overall objective is to contribute to the achievement of the MDGs and the vision 20-2020 which aim at addressing the country’s challenges of food security, food safety, and critical infrastructure particularly along the agro-allied value chain, private sector investment, and wealth creation for farmers and employment generation for the country’s teeming youths.

His words, “we are involved in the national food safety management committee and currently reviewing the draft food bill recently developed by a team of consultants”.

The African Union (AU) through Raphael Coly Said member-states should endeavour to set up a structured and functional national codex committee in each country, organise a regional workshop on coordinated positions under ECOWAS before each CAC session and before the continental coordination meeting of national codex contact points.  Coly said this would allow the inclusion of regional concerns as a priority in the draft standards and would strengthen the regional solidarity.