Africa: Self-sufficiency in food production is urgent priority – Bureau Veritas
Greater self-sufficiency in food production is an urgent priority for African countries as currencies used to pay for imports weaken, Marc Roussel, Bureau Veritas senior vice president for Africa, tells The Africa Report.
The French testing and certification company is in discussions to extend its network of laboratories used for food certification to new parts of the continent, says Roussel. The new labs will be in east and west Africa, he says, declining to be more specific.
Africa will need to make more scientific use of its soils to stop hunger increasing as the population grows.
About 25% of productive land in sub-Saharan Africa is degraded, mainly due to the loss of soil nutrients through continuous cropping. Researchers have argued that increasing the capacity of local soil testing facilities is part of the solution.
According to the African Food Safety Network, a group of food safety institutions, laboratory-based food control systems are generally lacking on the continent.
Africa Union agricultural ministers in April noted that the COVID-19 pandemic was being treated firstly as a public health issue. National strategies, they said, were “only gradually” being focused on the impacts of the pandemic on food and nutrition security.
- Bureau Veritas, which has usually concentrated its certification on end products, is now seeking to extend food inspection to the entire supply chain.
- Food certification “needs to more systematic,” says Roussel. That means widening the scope of supply chain analysis to include soil quality and fertilisers. Satellite images and cartography, he says, can be used to help identify deficient soils.
- The company expects to start building new food labs in Africa next year. Each lab will take between six to 12 months to be built, and a further six to 12 months to be tested and validated.
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Bureau Veritas in 2017 bought Labomag, a provider of agronomic testing services in Morocco. In December 2019, the company received its first soil scanner to develop what it calls “precision agriculture”.
Analyses of soil quality are carried out at an agronomic laboratory in Casablanca.
- “Morocco has invested in soil analysis,” says Roussel. “Other countries need to follow.”
- Testing for pesticide residues in soils needs to be more widely adopted, he adds.
Globally, the Bureau Veritas food business saw organic revenue growth of 4.4% in the third quarter, driven by demand in Asia. But Africa and the Middle East, which together account for 8% of the company’s global revenue, saw sales fall 6.3%, hampered by weaker energy sector demand.
Oil is the company’s business sector where the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic remains the “most uncertain,” adds Roussel.
Still, the need to restart tourism is creating new sources of demand. Bureau Veritas has worked with Morocco’s ministry of tourism to develop the “Welcome Safely” label as a means of giving qualifying businesses a means of reassuring prospective customers.
The company is also working with Senegal to restart its tourism industry and sees opportunities to extend validation to more African countries and individual airports, says Roussel.
Certification of products across industries will be a key part of Africa’s post-COVID 19 economic recovery.