A Day in the Life of a USAID Food Safety Advisor
It’s 6 a.m. and my alarm is ringing next to my ear. Although typically an early bird, I am slow to get up this morning. I slept for five hours after traveling from the United States to Nairobi for a two-week temporary duty (TDY) assignment. Despite the lack of sleep, I am excited to get to work. I will spend my first week in the country working with partners from the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Animal Health (AHIL). We have collaborated with AHIL for two years, reviewing their work on East Coast Fever (a tick-borne disease of cattle) and how improved vaccines and diagnostics can help overcome resulting challenges, such as mortality and economic losses to achieve Feed the Future’s goals of reducing hunger, poverty and malnutrition. Despite our working relationship, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented us from meeting in person. During my week-long stay, AHIL is hosting their annual meeting and launching a new molecular and diagnostics lab at the University of Nairobi. During my second week, I will focus on providing technical support to the USAID Mission in Kenya on their nutrition portfolio.
So why am I here working on such a broad range of technical areas during such a short trip? My name is Meera Chandra, and I am a food safety advisor with USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security (RFS). I have been with the Center for Nutrition in RFS for just under three years. I am a veterinarian by training and also hold a master’s in public health. I spent a year working in agriculture policy in the U.S. Senate before joining USAID. I provide this background because it provides context as to why a food safety advisor is working on such a wide range of issues.
Food safety plays a foundational role in achieving food security. Food safety underpins progress toward the Global Food Security Strategy (GFSS), which guides the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative, and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To maximize investments and make progress toward the GFSS objectives of agriculture-led economic growth, strengthening the resiliency of people and systems and fostering well-nourished communities, USAID is promoting the adoption of improved food safety practices throughout the food system.
When USAID promotes dietary diversity, including increased consumption of fruits, vegetables and animal source foods (ASF), it is important to simultaneously address the increased food safety risks associated with the consumption of those foods. For example, ASF such as meats, fish, dairy and eggs provide an excellent source of protein and micronutrients. However, they are easily contaminated by biological contaminants. Improved animal health practices from investments like AHIL can mitigate economic losses and increase the availability of safe and nutritious ASF products.
The first days of this trip are spent with AHIL as they host their annual meeting and celebrate the launch of a new Molecular and Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Nairobi. The new lab can be used to detect and diagnose a wide range of livestock diseases, including East Coast Fever and Brucellosis. Brucellosis is a particularly relevant food safety issue because disease can be spread to humans through contact with livestock or consumption of contaminated food products, such as unpasteurized milk. Enhancing the capacity of local institutions to diagnose a range of animal health diseases cannot only reduce the risk of foodborne illness, but also increase the availability of nutritious animal source foods.
The end of the week is spent recruiting participants for field surveys to determine the impacts of livestock ownership on children’s nutritional status. The linkage between livestock ownership and nutrition outcomes is an excellent example of analyzing how various components of the food system interact to ultimately impact diets, which is the primary outcome of the food system. One of the five elevated priorities in the revised GFSS is working across food systems. This approach takes into account the many integrated parts of food’s journey from farm to table. The GFSS notes that, “Feed the Future investments will support greater integration across the three objectives by enhancing the production, affordability and marketing of nutritious foods that improve diet quality.” As a food safety advisor, I must consider where and how food safety can be leveraged within food systems to improve diets while also utilizing my technical background to work toward reducing hunger, poverty and malnutrition.
As my trip comes to a close, I reflect on how this experience has influenced my work as a food safety advisor. My understanding of the local food systems context for all food safety or nutrition work enhances my support to USAID’s Missions and improves the impact of their programming. I help my colleagues in countries around the world see how the various components of the food system, including animal health, food safety and nutrition, all play a foundational yet interrelated role in improving diets across Feed the Future target countries. I look forward to providing more support to both Missions and implementing partners to integrate food safety into their food systems and agriculture programs to ultimately improve diets. I encourage any Missions with an interest in learning more to contact me for other members of the Food Safety Division in RFS.