Fresh produce and the diet transformation in Africa: Challenges to ensuring a safe and fresh supply to growing urban populations


This presentation was delivered virtually by David Tschirley, Joseph Goeb, and Jason Snyder.

David Tschirley is fixed-term professor of International Development in the Department of Food, Agricultural, and Resource Economics at Michigan State University (MSU), and Co-Director of the department’s Food Security Group. Joseph Goes recently completed his PhD from the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics at MSU, and Jason Snyder is currently a PhD Candidate in the Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics program at MSU.

This presentation identifies ways in which diets in Africa are changing, and how each of these transformations highlights the importance of the post-farm segment of the agrifood system. It notes that demand for fresh fruits and vegetables is growing, though slowly, presenting an opportunity for rural farmers.

Along with demand, supply chains and retail in Africa are also changing, with the last 15 years having seen an increase in supermarket chains. At the same time, the informal sector remains dominant in fresh produce. However, infrastructure at informal wholesale markets is inadequate and outdated and market infrastructure is not included in the urban planning agenda. This is a serious concern because urban demand is now over 50% of all food demand through markets in East and Southern Africa, and further increases are projected. With increased demand and outdated infrastructure, food safety risks are probably increasing, especially for green leafy vegetable production in peri-urban areas where there is risk of wastewater and pesticide contamination. 

Farming practices are also becoming more intensified with increased use of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. Products with high WHO toxicity levels (orgaophosphates) are widely used. Farmers lack accurate information about specific pesticide toxicities, and generally perceive all pesticides to be highly toxic. Recent research shows that farmers respond to pesticide education, and continuing efforts should be accompanied by more regulation on fake pesticides. Currently, extension systems focus very little on fresh produce and most farmers make decisions based on advice from family members or peers. This presents a good opportunity to focus extension efforts on trusted farmers.

The takeaways included that huge opportunities exist for the top tier of small farmers in terms of gaining knowledge, opening regional output markets, and seed trade. More attention needs to be paid to food safety (e.g. pesticide usage and marketing infrastructure), as well as helping cities break out of their dysfunctional approach to urban food marketing through new models of ownership and management, integrating food into urban planning, and modifying the food environment to promote healthy food choices.

This virtual presentation was part of at an event titled "Aligning the Food System to Meet Dietary Needs: Fruits and Vegetables," which took place on June 2-3, 2017, at the UC Davis Conference Center.