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Foodborne Illnesses in Africa
With approximately 41% of the African population experiencing poverty, access to food is a persistent struggle. Poor food quality often accompanies food scarcity and both can lead to foodborne illnesses. According to NPR, Africa has the highest per-capita rate of foodborne illnesses in the world. Here are five facts about foodborne illnesses in Africa.

5 Facts About Foodborne Illnesses in Africa

  1. Children are the most affected by foodborne illnesses. Children, especially under the age of five, are at an increased risk of contracting a foodborne illness.  Since their immune systems are not fully developed yet, it is also more difficult for children to fight off illnesses, particularly if they do not have access to high-quality health services.
  2. Lack of refrigeration is an underlying cause of foodborne illness. In rural villages in the Eastern Cape of Africa, many families do not have access to a refrigerator or electricity. As a result, they have to buy food daily to ensure that it does not perish. This becomes expensive, however, and is not sustainable for a low-income family. Therefore, many of these families resort to keeping food that would otherwise require refrigeration out in the open. Bacteria on food grows fastest in temperatures ranging from 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, doubling about every 20 minutes. Given that average temperatures in Africa fall within that range, Africans who do not have the means to buy a refrigerator are more prone to developing foodborne illnesses.
  3. The transportation of food in Africa is also a significant factor. A majority of Africans get their food through informal markets. The food that arrives at these markets typically originates from smallholder farms, but the safety standards during transportation are not always strictly enforced. Food contamination can happen during food production, delivery and consumption. In Africa, where food often travels long distances in hot climates without adequate packaging, contamination is more likely.
  4. Many African governments do not possess the resources to regulate food safety risks. Since Africa suffers from hunger and malnutrition, governments place an emphasis on delivering as much food as possible to those lacking it. This sometimes leads to a greater focus on quantity than quality. During hunger crises, although governments deliver food in a widespread manner, it can cause more harm if the food is contaminated. Without the resources necessary to regulate food safety, many African governments rely on international organizations that provide policy guidance and training.
  5. Africa’s food system is becoming more industrialized. While diets in Africa used to be rich in grains, many diets now primarily contain vegetables, meat and dairy products. These foods are more likely to require refrigeration, increasing the likelihood of contamination. Additionally, as more diverse diets are incorporated, there is the threat of new illnesses emerging. Underfunded clinics often lack the knowledge and resources to adequately diagnose foodborne illnesses and the emergence of new illnesses may worsen the diagnosis process.

Looking Ahead

Despite having a high rate of foodborne illnesses, progress is being made in Africa. The African Union is working to implement a continent-wide food safety authority. The initiative is set to emerge in the next year and will focus on increasing food safety protocols in markets and factories.

An organization called Harvest Plus uses a food-based approach to tackle hunger and agricultural needs by adding micronutrients to food. Through a process called biofortification, farmers add vitamins and minerals to everyday crops to sustainably bridge the gap between agriculture and nutrition. By targeting vulnerable populations around the world, the organization ensures food security in a nutritious and safe manner. Harvest Plus is confident that with consistent efforts, 1 billion people can have access to biofortified foods by 2030.

Sarah Frances
Photo: Flickr

solar-cookersAn estimated three billion people around the globe rely on open, bio-fuel based fires to cook. Open-fire cooking can cause injuries from open flames, generate long-term health issues from smoke inhalation, and aggravate deforestation. Furthermore, the time-consuming and often dangerous task of traveling long distances to collect biofuel and maintain the fire disproportionately burdens women and children. Solar-cookers offer a cheap, clean and safe alternative to cooking with an open fire. Implementing this technology can help families avoid the detrimental effects of open-fire cooking that contribute to the cycle of poverty. 

How Solar Cookers Work

Solar-cookers are oven-like devices that use mirrored surfaces to concentrate the sun’s thermal energy and heat the cooker’s contents. These devices are easily constructed with low-cost materials and even the most rudimentary model—the box cooker—can cook at a temperature up to 140° Celsius, or 284° Fahrenheit. 

How Solar-Cookers Help Break the Cycle of Poverty

  1. The only fuel needed to operate solar-cookers is both free and abundant—the sun. While some regions are better suited for harvesting sunlight than others, 85% of the 500 million people living in sun-abundant territories suffer from regional biofuel shortages. Due to these shortages, families either spend as much as 25% of annual income on biofuel or regularly travel long distances to collect it themselves. Solar-cookers relieve families of this financial burden. Besides the initial cost of purchase or construction, solar-cookers need only sunlight to operate. The funding typically allotted for fuel can then be spent on education, increased healthcare or more nutritious foods.
  2. Solar-cookers provide time for families to pursue other activities. Cooking with open fires can require as many as four hours daily to retrieve biofuels. Comparatively, solar-cookers eliminate the need to travel large distances in order to cook altogether. Additionally, the food in solar-cookers does not need regular stirring and can be left unattended for the total cook time. For the women and children typically involved in the process of maintaining the fire or gathering fuel, the valuable time saved can be spent on other economically beneficial activities, such as pursuing education, caring for family members or producing and preparing goods for sale.
  3. Solar-cookers can reduce the rate of infections and death due to water-borne illnesses. Solar cookers can be used to pasteurize water in locations where potable sources of water are unavailable. Eliminating the cost of biomass fuel to heat the water, solar-cookers make consistent purification of drinking water more economically viable. Water purification also saves families from unnecessary and costly expenditures on healthcare due to water-borne illnesses.
  4. Solar-cookers combat malnutrition. High levels of childhood stunting, a direct effect of chronic malnutrition, correlates directly with household poverty. Biofuel-scarcity contributes to malnutrition, as families exclude foods with higher nutritional value due to longer cook times. Solar-cookers eliminate this problem, allowing families to restore nutrient-heavy foods to their diets. Additionally, the slow cooking style of solar-cookers allows food to retain more nutrients than if cooked through traditional methods. Lastly, local food production and availability improve as solar-cookers reduce deforestation; the increased quality of soil and water lends itself to superior agricultural production.
  5. Solar-cookers eliminate the risk of health issues caused by open fires. According to the World Health Organization, household air pollution from open fire cooking and simple stoves are responsible for approximately four million deaths annually. Accidents from open-fire cooking can lead to burn injuries and disfigurement, as well as the destruction of property. Solar-cookers are entirely flame and smoke-free. These devices effectively eliminate the detrimental consequences of meal and water preparation and save families from burdensome healthcare costs.

Solar-Cookers in Action

The success stories are plenty. In the Iridimi refugee camp in Chad, distribution of solar-cookers by the NGO Solar Cookers International caused an 86% drop in trips outside of camp to collect firewood. This reduced exposure to violence from the Janjaweed militia group. Additionally, food consumption increased as families no longer needed to barter food rations away for firewood. In Oaxaca, Mexico, where households spend as much as 10% income on energy, Solar Household Energy supplied 200 local women with solar cookers in 2016. Today, users report that the cookers have reduced the use of their woodstoves by more than 50% and that they have more free time. Many of the women now organize solar-cooker demonstrations in their homes to promote the benefits of leaving open-fire cooking behind. 

– Alexandra Black
Photo: Flickr

Significance of Street Food CultureThailand has refreshing somtam, Mumbai, India has bhel puri and South Africa has a snack of bunny chow. What do these diverse dishes all have in common? They are some of the most notable street foods in their respective countries and vital to the daily lives of citizens, demonstrating the significance of street food culture.

Resourceful but innovative, street foods have a long history in many countries around the world. The foods are reflective of local and traditional cultures. Around 2.5 billion people eat street food around the world. It is one of the few things yet to be significantly touched by capitalist influence.

Perceived Risks

Not everyone thinks so positively about street food and its vendors. Some government officials around the world are concerned about food safety, sanitation problems, traffic congestion and taking up physical space. The greatest fear is of diseases caused by food lowering tourism rates.

Though these risks should not be disregarded, there is much more to street food culture that should be recognized by the greater public. In 2006, the International Labour Office did a thorough report of street food vendors in Bangkok, Thailand by interviewing numerous case studies from mobile to fixed vendors. Specifically, with fixed vendors, the report says: “More than 80 percent of vendors reported that their earnings were adequate,” and “88 percent reported to be satisfied with their occupation.”

The significance of street food culture in preserving global communities is evident in the following areas of cultural empowerment, employment opportunities and accessibility.

Cultural Empowerment

A large part of the significance of street food culture is its ability to create a familial network within specific global communities and enhance levels of inclusivity. The liveliness of street food makes streets vibrant and daily routines colorful. It catches the attention of those from every social class which breaks down barriers.

Additionally, the street food industry protects traditional recipes that run through ancestry lines. Food stalls are often owned and handled by a family. This makes the business an opportunity for multiple generations in the present and the future. Current generations are able to learn about where they have come from and where their country is going, culturally and socially.

Employment and Business Opportunities

Since street food stalls are micro-businesses, it is possible for newcomers to create their own stalls with only a small amount of money. They also have the potential to earn back gains in the long run. Cooking or selling food is commonly the first job for many migrants and women, providing real-life opportunities. Vendors also aid the businesses of small farms and markets by buying ingredients from them. The street food industry has offered new positions for employment. Therefore, it has prevented vulnerable social groups from slipping further into poverty.

A city authority report in Tanzania found that the street vending industry employed more than one million people in 2014. Also, in Hanoi, Vietnam, street vending makes up a six percent share of total employment and an 11 percent share of informal total employment, making the vending sector a significant employer.

Street food is considered part of the informal sector of the economy. However, the industry has developed its own self-sufficient economy without outside assistance. The underestimated sales of street food are contributing to the economy of developing countries. This is another aspect of the significance of street food culture.

Food Accessibility

The significance of street food culture also includes improved access to food across countries, including their poor communities. In the 1990s, the United Nations recognized street food as an overlooked method of distributing food to communities. Street food provides sustenance and nutrition to major groups of the population and helps to keep food security stable.

Since the cooks have low operation and maintenance costs, street foods are low in cost. People with very little to no income depend on street foods every day to support themselves and their families.

Nonprofits like InnoAid are supporting the street vending sector. The organization co-created an educational toolkit for street vendors in India that promotes alignment with the National Act of Urban Street Vendors. It includes training materials on hygiene, collaboration and workspace improvements. Adhering to these aspects of the project will add to its sustainability and benefits for vendors. The project has already helped more than 600 vendors through these entrepreneurial activities and is in the process of implementing a large-scale development project.

With support and increased research on the significance of street food culture, assumptions and overall suspicion of the industry can be reduced. Improving the reputation of street foods could help to preserve culturally significant recipes, provide employment opportunities and supply low-cost food options.

-Melina Benjamin

Photo: Flickr

Chinese Food Safety
Perhaps the issue of food safety is among the most misunderstood aspects of global poverty. Not only does a lack of food safety cause health risks and life-threatening conditions, but it also disproportionately affects the poor. In the past several years, Chinese food safety, particularly in rural areas has been among the topics of discussion for food safety.

Some Chinese-made food products have been revealed to make people ill and even result in deaths. In 2008, tainted infant formula caused the deaths of six infants and kidney damage to hundreds more.

Exports with misleading labels and too many hormones and antibiotics have caused problems with American companies like Walmart and KFC.

With those who have the opportunities, many Chinese are opting to purchasing substitute products from outside of the country. However, the possibilities are predominantly limited to the wealthy class in China. Many of the poorer people are unable to afford the alternatives so they have to resort to buying the substandard Chinese products.

The food safety problems have had ripple effects on the Chinese economy. With consumer doubt on the rise, the contracts and workers are being threatened by the dissatisfaction.

In a New York Times article, Don Schaffner, a microbiology professor at Rutgers University, compared China’s food safety industry with the United States’s food industry pre-Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” Much like the United States’ reform during the Progressive Era, China is expected to take similar steps to reform.

One of the solutions that China is actively working on is revising the health care standards and trying to reinforce them. Meeting the quality standards of many of the trade partners will help solidify the food economy in China.

The consistency of the quality of food is expected to affect the economy and the people alike. More faith in Chinese food and guaranteed health safety is set to increase the domestic economy and strengthen the credence in the Chinese food industry.

– Kristin Ronzi

Sources: NY Times, Zacks
Photo: NY Times

sealed air
There is no surprise that the world will continue to see a vastly growing population in the upcoming years. This means that society will need to provide food for an increasing number of people to meet the needs of an expanding population.

One company, Sealed Air, works to protect the food and water the world consumes. With the intent of maintaining an efficient distribution of food and water for people worldwide, Sealed Air focuses on the processing, shipping and preparation of consumable products in “a safe and efficient environment.” In essence, Sealed Air focuses on packaging, cushioning and clean hygiene.

According to the company, its recognized brands, including Cryovac, Bubble Wrap and Diversity, help to ensure “a safer and less wasteful food supply chain, protect[ing] valuable goods shipped around the world, and improv[ing] health through clean environments.” Today, the company employs nearly 25,000 people, and services 175 countries with its products.

Therefore, Sealed Air is in the business of ensuring that food and water arrive to the consumer in as safe and accessible a way as possible. The company works with a number of government agencies and NGOs, including the EPA, the U.N. World Food Programme, the World Wildlife Fund and the Alliance for Water Stewardship.

One of Sealed Air’s primary focuses is to change and reverse public perception of waste. In the U.S., roughly 40 percent of food grown is wasted. The world as a whole wastes one-third of its food each year. A rising global population means more people, more food and potentially more waste, which Sealed Air is working to prevent.

A publicly traded company, Sealed Air, generated a revenue of nearly $7.7 billion last year. Declaring itself as the “new global leader” in food safety and security, facility hygiene and product protection, the company intends to cement itself as a global player in the fight to deliver as many consumable products to as many people as possible.

– Ethan Safran

Sources: World Food Program USA, Sealed Air, European Cleaning Journal
Photo: Sun Earth