What Do Traditional Markets Have to Do with Health and Development?
As we prepare for this year’s World Food Safety Day (WFSD), Evidence and Action Towards Safe, Nutritious Food (EatSafe) reflects on past WFSD celebrations, with a focus on the relationship between food safety and traditional markets. These settings, also known as informal/wet or “open air” marketplaces, are critically important across the food system. Sectors like nutrition, health and development all intersect at the traditional market.
In most low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), traditional markets represent the meeting of supply and demand for local food. They are the primary community locale that combines commerce, nutrition, social interaction, food safety and health. Last year, EatSafe’s short film, “The Story of Felicia and Musa,” spotlighted how traditional markets touch people’s lives in this multitude of ways.
Investing in food safety in traditional markets today will reap future rewards across multiple sectors tomorrow
Traditional markets are the dominant distributor of food in LMICs (GloPan, 2016) and are the source of nutritious food for millions of people each day. Despite their many benefits, traditional markets in LMICs are often un- or under-regulated (EatSafe, 2022), posing significant food safety risks. When EatSafe surveyed consumers who shop in traditional markets on their experiences with unsafe food, one in four consumers reported severe illnesses from food over the prior 16 months (EatSafe, 2021). While individual illness cannot be directly attributed to food from traditional markets, the frequency of reported food disease by the respondents is higher than the frequency of foodborne illnesses reported at the country level. This could suggest that it is important to study the opportunities for improving food safety in local markets, especially because of their importance in supplying fresh, nutritious food.
EatSafe strategically works at the intersection of traditional markets and food safety due to its extensive impact across local food systems and economies. Additionally, in the case of nutrition and food security, unsafe food can undermine previous progress and efforts made in these fields, resulting in negative impacts on human health.
Traditional markets serve as a hub for livelihoods and social capital. Supporting vendors to ensure that the food they sell is safe for consumption helps business owners avoid adverse economic outcomes and helps them contribute to the development of their communities. While it can be assumed that food safety investments are interwoven with business advantages for market vendors, more is to be learned about this behavioral mechanism.
EatSafe has always held the mantra of “food safety is everyone’s business.” Strengthening collaboration across sectors improves food safety. Maximizing efforts requires collaboration between donor organizations, local civil society and government stakeholders. Making safer food a reality necessitates forging innovative partnerships to create platforms to discuss, plan and implement interventions at scale. For example, EatSafe in Nigeria is developing a multi-stakeholder association to bring together vendors, consumers, market actors and governing representatives with the goal to act as a sustainable, supporting structure to improve food safety traditional markets.
More work is needed to better understand food safety in traditional markets
In traditional markets, consumers and vendors interact directly with each other and with the food they consume. However, in many ways, traditional markets are still undefined environments. Market stakeholder interactions, market metrics and food safety risk evaluation matrices are growing areas of research EatSafe has begun to explore.
Through this work, we aim to harness new findings to promote safer food in traditional markets by testing approaches targeting traditional markets to increase consumer’s and vendor’s motivations to improve food safety.
With the impacts from global and regional conflict, improving food safety will be essential to mitigate the looming threat of malnutrition and food insecurity in many LMICs that source food from affected countries. Regardless of sector, on this WFSD, we encourage others to join the efforts being made to ensure that traditional markets are a foundation for safe, nutritious food.