Stakeholder-Centered Risk Ranking Workshop Builds Consensus and Sets Priorities for Food Safety Research in Kenyan Poultry
Poultry production systems worldwide are vulnerable to contamination with bacterial pathogens, such as non-typhoidal Salmonella, which is the leading cause of death from foodborne disease in Africa. Research grounded in locally led decision-making about priorities will be better positioned to generate sustainable, scalable food safety solutions. Leveraging this approach, a team of Kenya- and U.S.-based researchers held a risk ranking workshop in March, engaging female smallholder farmers in Kenya in prioritizing food safety interventions for rigorous evaluation.
“People will always need poultry as a locally, readily available source of protein,” said Robert Onsare, senior research scientist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and co-principal investigator on the project, which is funded by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety. “But because chicken is often produced and processed in informal settings which rarely include pathogen mitigation strategies, it can be a high-risk value chain.”
Researchers with the Chakula Salama project, which means “safe food” in Swahili, are using the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Guide to Ranking Food Safety Risks at the National Level to set the course for their food safety research and outreach. The guide, released in 2020, was designed to help decision-makers rank the public health risk posed by foodborne hazards in their countries. This spring, the Chakula Salama team used the framework in a risk ranking workshop with stakeholders from Kiambu County, Kenya.
A values-driven process
“A lot of food safety decisions are made in an ad hoc or reactive manner, so the main benefit of the risk ranking exercise is that it helps focus on the biggest priorities,” said Barbara Kowalcyk, the project’s principal investigator and associate professor of food science and technology at The Ohio State University. “We rank the risks based on public health impact but then prioritize those based on the stakeholder community input — you can think of it as using community values to decide where research should focus next.”
The risk ranking workshop was held over three days at KEMRI in March 2022. During the workshop, project researchers introduced the concept and process of risk ranking and explained potential interventions to reduce the risk of foodborne disease. The farmers and local veterinary experts then gathered in breakout groups to discuss and rank risks — including those posed by contamination with Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria — as well as potential food safety interventions. Groups undertook an iterative process of review, reconsideration and revision until day three, when a consensus about the highest food safety priorities emerged.
“The facilitators were essential to draw out conversation and help people get comfortable in their group,” noted program manager Janet Buffer, who observed the session. “Although each day you could see progress was being made, it could feel very messy. It could feel very uncomfortable. And then boom, you've got a result.”
Risk reduction, accessibility, acceptability and affordability
The group identified changes in the handling of carcasses and training on food safety practices before and after slaughter as priorities for interventions. The decision was guided by the group’s assessment and ranking of their shared values.
“The group reached consensus that reducing risks to human health was the most important value because it protects the consumer,” said Onsare. “Accessibility to the farmers and acceptability to the consumer were ranked as second important, and affordability was ranked third, because the intervention has to have some economic sense.”
Workshop participant Sharon Wanjiru, who has been farming broiler birds with her mother for eight years, found the workshop and interactions to be an effective learning environment.
“The workshop created room for interaction by our groupings to reach solutions with different people from different areas, hence new knowledge was gained on my side,” said Wanjiru, who is currently raising 4,000 boilers and 750 chickens for egg laying. “I also learned the importance of preslaughter and post-slaughter procedures on producing safe food for consumers.”
Strengthening capacity and connections
Students from KEMRI, the University of Nairobi and The Ohio State University were present to observe and support the workshop. For most, it was their first opportunity to see risk ranking in action, building knowledge and capacity for this approach in the next generation of food safety researchers.
“The whole process was amazing, educational and interactive,” said Abdiaziz Bainah, a Ph.D. candidate in food safety and quality at the University of Nairobi with Dr. Catherine Kunyanga. “I learned a lot about risk ranking and prioritization, and it was fascinating to interact with the farmers, seeing their understanding of risk and insights into the likely challenges to addressing each identified risk.”
Noel Kambi, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in medical micro with Dr. Onsare at KEMRI, noted the interactions with stakeholders were invaluable to ensuring interventions were practical and, therefore, more sustainable.
“Having worked with farmers for a long time, this was a good opportunity to learn more about them and their farming activities,” she said. “Involving farmers in the risk ranking process was critical, because it allowed them to express their thoughts on the ideas presented, including what is useful and what can be implemented.”
“It was also a good learning opportunity for scientists, experts, stakeholders and farmers because they all exchanged knowledge and opinions based on their expertise,” Kambi added.
With the risk ranking workshop complete, the researchers are now turning to filling some data gaps, including assessing levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter in the poultry value chain. In the coming year, the team will be evaluating the effectiveness of the stakeholder-selected intervention strategies, focusing on approaches that are culturally and gender appropriate, practical and scalable. Throughout, a priority for the researchers will be building on the partnership with stakeholders established in the workshop.
“Across the board, the message coming through to us is that stakeholders are tired of being asked to participate in studies and then never getting any information back,” said Kowalcyk. “So, it’s important for us to develop ways to stay connected with all the stakeholders who helped us launch this work.”