Weak agricultural extension services to farmers has been cited as among major barriers to ensuring food safety in the country, according to a recent baseline survey.
Other barriers include lack of information on proper use of pesticides and proper hygiene practices.
As such, the survey concluded that farmers need to be informed on the correct use of pesticides and on hygiene practices. Additionally, there is need to strengthen extension services while agro dealers need to be empowered with the right information.
The survey was done for the Market Access Upgrade Programme (Markup) Kenya by Ipsos, an International research company.
Funded by the European Union (EU), Markup Kenya seeks to promote competitiveness and market access along selected fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs and spices value chains. The programme, which was launched in October 2019, is implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (Unido), in partnership with the government and the private sector.
Knowledge attitudes and practice
The research, which focused on the 12 counties where Markup is implemented, sought to establish the knowledge attitudes and practice (KAP) on food safety in Kenya.
Further, the research revealed that money and the availability of ready markets are major drivers of food safety.
On the other hand, the survey recommended that farmers should be educated on their collective responsibility on food safety and on storage of chemicals in separate areas.
"If you tell me that you will buy my macadamia at Sh200, I don't see any reason as to why I wouldn't follow the pre-harvest interval. I will check everything from the beginning until I sell [them] because there is [some good] return. But if the return is imaginary, then I will also operate in an unprofessional way," the report quotes a macadamia farmer from Embu.
It calls for better coordination and policy enforcement by different stakeholders.
"Farmers should be educated on their collective responsibility on food safety and on storage of chemicals in separate areas," reads the report which also calls on the government to have better structures to enforce current laws and regulations.
The KAP lead researcher Caroline Mackenzie described the survey as timely, noting that issues of food safety are a major concern in the country. Additionally, she noted, the baseline provided benchmark data for a food safety campaign and so it will be good to evaluate the impact of the campaign using a follow-up survey.
Small holder farmers, she noted, need to be educated on the identified gaps so that they can produce food that is safe. Additionally, consumers need to be educated to demand food that has been produced under safe conditions, and they should be willing to pay a premium for food produced under high hygiene standards.
Ms Mackenzie recommends other surveys, especially among transporters, wholesalers and retailers, to see how to improve food safety during transportation and storage, before it gets to the consumer.
"It would also be good to check with consumers what they know about food safety, how they handle food after purchase, what they do when they get sick among other related issues," said Ms Mackenzie, adding, "It would also be good to find out if consumers would be willing to demand and pay premium for food produced under high food safety standards. If yes, this can be used as an incentive to farmers."
Markup Kenya National Coordinator Maina Karuiru said there are various action plans planned by the project following the research findings. Among them are trainings on key issues such as good agricultural practices and integrated pest control and management methods.
Additionally, the programme will support the government to have a centralised mechanism to handle food safety matters and train farmers on correct handling and application of pesticides.
Stakeholders in the nuts sector will be trained on aflatoxin management and various value addition methods in order to increase their capacity to access different markets.
They will also receive support to access financing while producers will be linked with diversified markets.