Food Safety Policy Can Protect Consumers in Traditional Markets: Insights from Nigeria and Ethiopia
Traditional food markets — often referred to as wet or informal markets — provide complementary benefits to vendors and consumers in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs): vendors have relatively stable sources of income, and consumers have access to affordable produce and animal-source foods in close proximity to their homes. However, legal and regulatory governance structures often focus only on formal food sectors, overlooking street food stalls, informal shops and traditional market settings in LMICs. This puts consumers and vendors at a heightened risk for foodborne disease.
Improving food safety in traditional markets is the primary focus of Feed the Future’s Evidence and Action Towards Safe, Nutritious Food (EatSafe) program. To better understand the policy landscape and intersections — or lack thereof — with traditional markets, we recently conducted reviews of food safety policy in Nigeria and Ethiopia, the two countries where EatSafe currently operates. Several themes arose consistently from this research.
Traditional markets lack official, legal recognition
This means that national and subnational government bodies neither have the responsibility nor the authority to regulate exchanges that occur at traditional markets or enforce and implement legislation that is only applicable to the formal food sector. As a result, there is little to no implementation and enforcement of existing regulations, rules and requirements related to safe food handling, storage and preparation in traditional markets.
Responsibility for food safety policy implementation is spread across federal, state and local levels for the formal food sector
At the federal level alone, both Nigeria and Ethiopia allocate responsibility for food safety across a dozen governing bodies. The figure on the right shows how responsibility is shared across at least three ministries and several more departments, agencies or independent executive bodies in both Nigeria and Ethiopia.
At the subnational level in Nigeria, state and local government area councils (LGACs) are generally responsible for overseeing traditional markets in Nigeria. In Ethiopia, rules vary widely by regional states and cities.
Many of the food safety laws were outdated or required revision
At both the national and subnational levels, some policies were outdated, in some cases, by 50+ years. Others were found to need revisions to comply with more recent innovations related to food safety best practices.
Recent attention on food safety creates an enabling policy environment that creates potential for greater coordination on governance
In both countries, government stakeholders have recognized the need to clarify responsibilities and remove duplicative efforts at the federal level. In Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of Health developed the National Policy on Food Safety in 2014, which resulted in the Nigerian 2019 Food Safety and Quality Bill. In Ethiopia, food safety emerged as a priority area among government stakeholders during the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit.
Building on progress
Though countries vary when it comes to the level of policy engagement with traditional markets, consumers should be able to rely on governments to support them in being able to access safe foods. Consumers appear to agree with this statement too: results from the 2020 World Risk Poll in both Nigeria and Ethiopia found that consumers expressed less satisfaction in government activities at ensuring food and water safety, compared to global averages.
Policy actors can maximize existing efforts — including at key moments, such as Nigeria’s current legislative session — and opportunities to enable federal food safety regulations and the development of Ethiopia’s Food Systems Roadmap as a follow-up to the United Nations Food Systems Summit. As a first, but essential, step, governments would recognize traditional markets in their legislation. In this way, they will open the door for development and enforcement of food safety policies most relevant for traditional market settings, improving consumer protection and safeguarding consumers against food safety risks.