Why food safety standards are important for Kenya’s exports

Dr Benoit Gnonlonfin

Dr Benoit Gnonlonfin who is an international expert on food safety standards.

Photo credit: Courtesy

Kenya is a major player in international food export, especially in horticulture produce such as vegetables and fruits. This means standards have always to be strictly observed across the value chains for produce to be accepted in both local and international markets.

Codex Alimentarius, also known as the ‘Food Code’, is a collection of standards, guidelines and codes of practice adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

Nation’s RACHEL KIBUI spoke to Dr Benoit Gnonlonfin, who is an international expert on food safety standards and a sanitary and phytosanitary issues expert, on the matter.

Dr Benoit is working as a consultant on Codex matters with the Market Access Upgrade Program (Markup) Kenya, which is supported by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the United Nations Industrial Organisation (Unido) in partnership with the government and private sector.

He explains what Codex entails and why it is important.

Q. In your own words, what is Codex and why is it important?

A. Codex is food code. Codex Alimentarius is the international standards setting body that establishes international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice that contribute to the safety, quality and fairness of this international food trade. Further, it also aims at protecting consumer health.

Codex standards are based on sound science provided by independent international risk assessment bodies or ad-hoc consultations organised by Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Health Organisation (WHO). While Codex recommendations are voluntary for application by members, these standards serve in many cases as a basis for national legislation. Inter/intra-regional, international trade is based on codex standards in line with the World Trade Sanitary and Phytosanitary (WTO SPS) agreement.

Q. Who should be involved in ensuring adherence to Codex?

A. Food safety is everyone business. Therefore, everyone should be involved in the Codex. However, to ensure adherence to Codex, it is the responsibility of high-level decision makers, national competent authorities, scientists, researchers, academia, private sector actors. At national level, there is a national Codex committee as well as Codex contact point to ensure better coordination.  

 Q. In 2019, the Markup Kenya programme was launched to support market access and competitiveness for Kenyan produce locally, regionally and internationally. What is Markup Kenya doing to promote Codex?

Markup is supporting member countries improve market access of agro-food products to the EU and regional markets. The main purpose is to contribute to the economic development by increasing the value of both extra and intra-regional agricultural exports in selected horticulture sub-sectors — snow peas and peas, mangoes, passion fruit, chilies, herbs and spices, nuts.

Recent studies have analysed the reasons for low productivity and competitiveness in these value chains such as the need of specialised extension services and lack of knowledge on appropriate good agricultural practices. These value chains for exports are also lacking compliance with market requirements and standards. The national quality infrastructure has an advanced quality infrastructure. However, some conformity assessment services are not yet fully recognised by the targeted international markets. Specifically, Markup Kenya is providing support to the Kenya government through the expertise of an international food safety and Codex expert.

Q. What is the expected outcome?

This technical assistance aims to raise the profile of Codex at national level, particular in Kenya. It also aims to improve the Kenya food safety coordination mechanism by providing technical assistance to the establishment of sustainable mechanisms to ensure better coordination and effective participation in the codex processes at national and regional levels.

Q. What are your parting words?

One of the key drivers for better coordination is the stakeholder consultation through regular meetings to discuss and prioritise actions. Funding to support/facilitate holding of regular national consultation meetings as well as at regional level is a challenge. Therefore, supporting advocacy activities of the high-level decision makers and relevant private sector actors on the importance of financing Codex and sanitary and phytosanitary activities at large could be recommended.