Statement of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, on the occasion of the opening of the 3rd Partnership Platform Meeting for Aflatoxin Control in Africa

October 02, 2018


Excellency the Prime Minister of the Republic of Senegal,

Distinguished members of the Government and representatives of State Institutions,

Honourable Ministers of the Member States in charge of Food Safety Issues and other Heads of Delegation,

Invited Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are gathered here to deliberate on a subject - food safety - that hardly makes it into the headlines of the African media. It has, unfortunately, not yet mobilised public opinion, although it is of paramount importance for Africa.

The prevailing mentality is that this issue “concerns mainly rich countries”, that “it is a luxury”. It is, therefore, not surprising that the focus in Africa has been more on the production of food in sufficient quantities rather than on its quality.

Yet, food safety encompasses every dimension of development on the continent. The associated challenges have serious consequences for the health of our citizens and their productivity, and place an enormous burden on public health services. They are a hindrance to intra-African trade and threaten the competitiveness of our agricultural products on the world market. They result in substantive post-harvest losses, thus reducing the availability of food.

Food safety is, therefore, an essential part of the strategy to fulfil the aspirations contained in Agenda 2063. It is precisely this awareness that has motivated the convening of this 3rd Partnership Platform Meeting for Aflatoxin Control, here in Senegal.

It is heartening to see different stakeholders from many countries, organisations and professions gathered here to give greater impetus to this struggle.

I would like to express my gratitude to President Macky Sall, for his strong support for the Platform, which is further testimony of the commitment of Senegal to the continental agenda. President Macky Sall has always been at the rendez-vous of African causes. His unrelenting efforts towards the economic development of the continent are noteworthy, because they are outstanding.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In recent decades, the African Union has given sustained attention to agricultural issues. The adoption, in 2003, at the Maputo Summit, of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme was a major step in this regard. The commitment of our States to allocate at least 10% of public expenditure to agriculture is indicative of a highly strategic intent.

In June 2014, our leaders adopted the Malabo Declaration on the Accelerated Growth and Transformation of Agriculture in Africa.

Let us be clear and straight forward: Africa’s development is inconceivable without huge investments in agriculture.

However, a purely quantitative approach cannot guarantee food security and adequate nutrition, as shown by the recurrence of famine, malnutrition and stunting in children.

The fulfilment of the commitments made in the Malabo Declaration requires sustained action to ensure food safety. This applies to the elimination of hunger and the tripling of intra-African trade in agricultural products and services by 2025, poverty reduction, and to the improvement of the resilience of production and livelihoods systems.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Given the wide array of food safety challenges facing us, we, at the African Union Commission, had to prioritise our interventions, focusing our efforts on aflatoxin control. Indeed, these dangerous toxins affect multiple staple foods with widespread daily consumption, particularly groundnuts, maize and sorghum, among others. These agricultural products also represent important sectors of our economies.

The impact of aflatoxins is devastating. They account for 30% of all liver cancer cases worldwide, with more than 40% recorded in Africa. They are also associated with immunosuppression and stunting in children. In addition, many of our States have experienced cases of acute aflatoxin poisoning, resulting in the significant loss of lives.

Furthermore, aflatoxins hamper access by African farmers to international markets, because their products do not meet the required standards. The continent thus loses at least 700 million US dollars per year in export earnings. Aflatoxin-contaminated products represent the largest percentage of African agricultural products rejected by the European Union.

At the continental level, the implementation of the commitment to increase trade in agricultural products and services is hampered by the absence of common standards for food safety. This shows how vital this issue is to the operationalization of the African Continental Free Trade Area.

Our countries are vulnerable to these challenges, not only because of particular climatic conditions, but also because of the lack of harmonised standards and adequate policies, the obsoleteness of the existing technical and scientific means, and the low sensitization about the danger we face. A study carried out by the African Union in one of our member states revealed that between 70 and 80% of the stakeholders concerned had never heard of aflatoxin and that more than 90% of them did not know about its impact. This fact certainly applies to many other countries of the continent.

In this area as in others, there is no fatality. Solutions exist: they require a continental vision, strong political will at the regional and national levels, as well as the establishment of adequate technical structures and the promotion of coordinated approaches.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have already made important strides. The launch in 2012, by the African Union Commission, of the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) is an eloquent testimony to these advances.

I am proud of the work accomplished in the six pilot countries identified in the initial phase of PACA implementation, including Senegal. The establishment of a PACA community comprising both African and non-African stakeholders and experts in the pursuit of this noble ambition, and whose goal is to maximize synergies, is a decisive step in that direction. Your meeting is the embodiment of this community.

At this point, I would like to pay a well-deserved tribute to the Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, Josefa Sacko, for her steadfast commitment, as well as to her colleagues from the PACA Secretariat for the results obtained. I urge them to sustain the momentum they have set in this bold endeavour.

I also thank the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Nestlé company and the Government of the United States of America for their substantial support.

I note with satisfaction that the European Union and the African Development Bank have expressed, at the highest level, their commitment to accompany our efforts.

This third PACA Partnership Platform Meeting will focus on the scaling up of this programme and the country-planning approach that underpins it to the entire continent. I am also expecting it to look at how best to rationalise our efforts, as some of our Specialized Agencies and Departments within the Commission also deal with issues related to food safety.

I would like, for my part, to reiterate my determination to move this agenda forward. At the Summit of our Union last January, I drew the attention of the Heads of State and Government to this issue. In May 2018, I submitted a Report to the Permanent Representatives Committee, not only to take stock of the efforts made, but also to call for greater mobilisation. I have raised this issue with a number of partners to seek their support.

As an outcome of our diverse initiatives, I am pleased to announce that, jointly with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization, the African Union will host the First International Conference on Food Safety at its headquarters, in Addis Ababa, in February 2019. I call for the full mobilization of this major Platform to ensure that the Conference is a resounding success that lives up to our expectations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The legitimacy of our Union and the extent of the support it receives at the continental level are intimately linked to the perception of its impact on the ground. It is against this backdrop that the ongoing institutional reform process called for the establishment of a more symbiotic relationship between the Union and African citizens.

A number of programmes contribute to the achievement of this objective. It is worth mentioning here activities being implemented in the area of livestock, which made it possible to eradicate rinderpest on the continent and to improve animal health, thanks to the work of the Pan-African Veterinary Vaccine Centre (PANVAC); the fight against epidemics, which involves the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention; education, through the academic mobility scheme, the Pan-African e-Network and the Pan-African University; as well as the NEPAD-led growth generating regional and continental projects, which will take the ongoing huge undertaking to new heights. I would like to commend President Macky Sall, who leads the NEPAD Orientation Committee.

The path to achieving the Africa We Want will not be a bed of roses. Many more challenges await us.

I am fully conscious of this. However, I adopt, as my mantra, the statement by the philosopher Seneca: “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”

Let us continue to dare!

I thank you for your attention, and wish you full success in your deliberations.

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