Rather than replacing them with Western-style supermarkets, governments should train local vendors to improve food safety, researchers say.
Contrary to popular conceptions, open-air local markets often have safer milk and meat than supermarkets in much of Africa, according to a book released on Tuesday by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
Local vendors offer fresher products to several hundred million low-income consumers, and many supermarkets still do not have well-regulated supply chains or stable refrigeration systems to prevent contamination.
Simple food safety training for informal vendors can limit the spread of SARS, avian influenza, tuberculosis and pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli, said the book, “Food safety and informal markets: Animal products in sub-Saharan Africa”.
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Outdoor vendors also boost local economies and tend to source products from neighbouring farmers, rather than international markets.
“We are wrong to think that we can just adopt solutions developed in wealthy countries that favour large commercial operations over small producers,” ILRI scientist Delia Grace said in a statement.
“That will just exacerbate hunger and further limit money earning options for the poor.”
Providing training and simple technologies for butchers in Nigeria, often a source of food contamination, led to an 18 per cent decrease in unsafe meat, researchers found.
This generated savings of 780 dollars for each butcher trained, due to decreasing costs of illness associated with eating contaminated meat, while the cost of training was just nine dollars.
Poor consumers are willing to pay a five to 15 per cent premium for safety-assured products, the research said.
The researchers found that rising incomes and urbanisation are unlikely to spell the end of these markets, which offer fresh food geared towards local tastes.
Even as incomes rise in much of Africa, informal markets are still expected to meet between 50 and 70 per cent of consumer demand by 2040.
(WATCH VIDEO: Meeting growing demand for food in sub-Saharan Africa)
Thus, policymakers need to work with market traders and consumers to improve food safety, rather than hope sub-Saharan Africa follows the same development trajectory as the West, where large stores have replaced local stalls.
“Informal markets are growing, not shrinking, across the developing world and in many ways mirror the ‘locavore’ trend occurring in wealthy countries,” said ILRI’s Grace.