• Michael Brown and Serena Stepanovic, World Vision United States

The Importance of Food Safety for Sustaining Inclusive, Nutritious Food and Market Systems

Effective MSD is all about catalyzing the market system and its actors to value behaviors that both serve their business interests and provide benefits back to society. How market systems value safe and nutritious food can be tricky. As the blog points out, even in wealthy countries, the market systems' journey to focusing on nutrition as a central value proposition of food products included a long phase where efficiency and quality assurance were the dominant factors influencing decision-making -- often at the expense of nutrition. While that phase generated highly affordable food and reduced hunger in general, it also tended to reduce the nutritional value of many diets. As MSD practitioners have realized that market systems are always managing competing interests and forces, projects must catalyze a local, context-specific change process that values food safety and nutrition from the start. From an MSD perspective, any change process must evolve internally to the local system, as opposed to a project-driven process, for the value of safety and nutrition to emerge in a way so that market actors perceive it is in their interest to compete on the quality and nutrition of their products.

The Importance of Food Safety within Food Systems

Every year and across the globe, the consumption of unsafe food leads to a conservatively estimated 600 million cases of foodborne diseases. More than 400,000 of these cases result in death, 30% of which occur among children under five. The burden of disease and death attributable to food born illness is likely greater than available data indicates, as a significant proportion of foodborne illnesses are misdiagnosed or are normalized and therefore undocumented. The World Bank estimates the impact of unsafe food costs low and middle-income economies $110 billion annually in medical expenses and lost productivity. For example, aflatoxin contamination, which is widespread in poorly managed grain and nut crop systems, causes widespread immune deficiencies and increasing kidney and liver disease.


To improve food safety within food and market systems, lead buyers and private food associations are enforcing science-based standards and traceability capabilities among large and small food suppliers as a requirement for accessing higher-value markets. As global and local food systems increasingly consolidate to improve food production and distribution efficiencies, large agribusinesses (producers, wholesalers, processors, and retail grocers) are also collaborating with national and local governments to strengthen food safety governance. More effective food safety governance in turn protects both businesses and consumers from the negative impacts of foodborne disease outbreaks


To meet food safety standards, fresh and minimally processed foods require more stringent handling and distribution systems than in past years. At the same time, large corporate manufacturers are shipping greater amounts of ultra-processed foods globally, covering more markets in low and middle-income countries at prices that compete with fresh and minimally processed food options. Recent research from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Global Research Program shows that highly processed foods are rapidly expanding in the diets of marginalized LMIC communities for similar reasons as in wealthier societies: perceived affordability, longer shelf-life, convenience, high-palatability, persuasive marketing, and perception of safer consumption. However, ultra-processed foods are often deficient in vital nutrients and fiber. Consumption of such foods directly contributes to the present-day growing trend of overnutrition (overweight and obesity) within a number of LMICs.


In light of these factors and broader efforts to make food systems more nutritious, inclusive market systems development (iMSD) programs are promoting greater uptake of global food safety practices to strengthen marginalized producers’ access to higher-value markets.


Promoting Food Safety within Cambodia’s Aquaculture Industry: Benefits of an inclusive Market Systems Development Approach

Since its inception in 2019, World Vision has been an implementing partner for the inclusive market systems development-focused Commercial Aquaculture for Sustainable Trade (CAST) project in Cambodia, led by the American Soybean Association and with funding from USDA. In addressing both a growing market requirement for safer food products and responding to consumer demands for more nutritious foods, this collaborative private-sector-led project is establishing Cambodia’s first aquaculture industry-wide sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) program. CAST also promotes local consumption of nutritious, affordable fish from environmentally sustainable, local sources.

Cambodia has one of the world’s highest per capita consumption rates for fish, along with a growing market for imported fish, ultra-processed foods, and fast-food restaurants. Through CAST, World Vision has brokered a range of strategic partnerships with private firms, government ministries, civil society organizations, and consumers in five provinces. These partnerships facilitate food systems stakeholder consultation on how to increase production and improve competitive sales of fresh and minimally processed fish within Cambodia’s national aquaculture industry. Such partnerships have also been pivotal in gaining industry and societal awareness of the importance of nutrition and food safety in fish production and processing.


The project’s iMSD approach has allowed for new forms of collaboration among food and market systems stakeholder groups. For example, CAST supported the creation of a private sector-led consortium of market actors called the Cambodian Aquaculture Association. Still in its infancy, the CAA has been instrumental in the ongoing development of enforceable national SPS policies that will meet international standards.


Strategic marketing campaigns, deployed through a partnership between the Ministry of Agriculture, lead fish farmers, wholesalers, processors, and retailers, have also been central to CAST’s iMSD approach. The early buy-in from lead fish farmers through the market campaigns helped to structure collaborative networks that had not already operated across the value chain.


CAST’s iMSD approach has also catalyzed greater degrees of lending by local microfinance institutions targeting SME product innovators, thereby strengthening the sustainability of the industry and its financial ecosystem beyond life of project. This has accelerated the introduction of innovations that 1) improved food safety processes (providing access to higher-value markets), 2) increased SME demand for products from fish farmers, thereby increasing their sales, 3) created new market opportunities (e.g., infant foods for WFP, and first-time export development), and 4) improved competitiveness against imported fish products.


Example of a CAST Market Campaign Outline and Targeted Assets

Bun Saosopheakneath, 3rd Campaign: Food Safety in Aquaculture, World Vision CAST Project, Cambodia, March 29, 2021


Conclusion and Insights

The CAST project’s iMSD approach has accelerated the harmonizing of the Cambodian aquaculture sector through a co-private sector-led intervention process. The approach has attracted influential private firms in the financial, production, processing, and distribution sub-systems. These groups have been matched with their respective public sector counterparts, strengthening the private-public collaborations that lead to sustainable food safety practices and that benefit markets and consumers alike. This collaborative industry guidance of market actors by CAST is projected to lead to the first Cambodian aquaculture exports in 2022 that will fulfill global aquaculture SPS standards, thereby increasing access to higher-value markets.


When seeking to strengthen local food and market systems through the lens of iMSD, food safety interventions should be foundational to creating sustained competitiveness for small-scale producers while fostering consumer well-being. As reflected in the experiences of the CAST project to date, doing so requires committed public and private sector buy-in across the project life cycle.


Likewise, iMSD programs must place a premium on market development strategies that promote sales and inclusive consumption of locally produced, fresh and minimally processed foods to compete effectively against the expanding global reach of low-nutrient ultra-processed foods.


Nutritious Food Systems Meet Gender Equality & Social Inclusion Investing in food safety moves the needle toward sustaining market driven outcomes that benefit smallholder producers. To ensure truly transformational food systems outcomes, iMSD-focused programs should also prioritize gender and social inclusion (GESI). Follow these links to learn more about World Vision’s GESI approach and World Vision’s global work in fostering nutritious food systems.





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