A key responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) in Eritrea involves regulating the production of food and feed derived from the agricultural sector. The aim is to ensure these products possess the desired quality and safety throughout the entire production process. The Public Relations Division (PRD) of the MoA recently conducted an interview with Mr. Tekleab Mesghena, the Director General of the Regulatory Services Department at the MoA, to shed light on these issues. Excerpts follow.
Could you elaborate on the government’s policy regarding food safety?
The MoA is tasked with ensuring food produced from various sources, including agriculture and marine resources, is safe, nutritious, and sufficient at both household and national levels. Food safety is deemed a fundamental part of food and nutrition security, only achievable when the desired levels of safety and nutrition are met. As a result, the MoA has devised strategies addressing these concerns in both the outgoing and upcoming strategic plans. Additionally, the MoA has been promoting organic farming since 2021 to minimize the use of agrochemicals, further ensuring food safety.
Could you highlight the major food and feed safety issues in Eritrea?
Like many developing countries, Eritrea faces several food safety issues arising from resource shortages and infrastructure deficiencies. The MoA is, however, diligently working to mitigate these challenges, such as improving technical capacities and lab testing equipment availability.
What role does the Regulatory Services Department (RSD) play in ensuring food and feed safety?
The RSD, along with its Regional Inspectorate offices in regions, is responsible for maintaining agri-food standards through rigorous control and inspection services at various stages of production, processing, and distribution.
Can you provide some insight into the control and inspection activities at the farm level?
Agricultural product safety starts at the farm level, requiring timely measures to ensure quality. The RSD takes immediate actions when necessary, as seen with the disposal of heavily pesticide-contaminated tomato crops in the Gash Barka region. These proactive measures, coupled with awareness campaigns, have significantly improved the situation. However, the National Animal and Plant Health Laboratory (NAPHL) currently lacks the capacity for comprehensive safety standard tests, though this issue is expected to be addressed soon.
Could you discuss inspection activities at the processing level?
The processing stage is critical in monitoring and inspecting agricultural products for safety and quality. Thanks to rigorous monitoring by the Regional Inspectorate Office, small-scale sesame oil processing plants, which had hygienic issues, have significantly improved their practices. Control and inspection activities are also carried out in animal feed processing plants and slaughterhouses, although infrastructure deficiencies remain a challenge.
Can you touch upon the legal framework that supports your activities?
Control and inspection services are backed by legal instruments, stipulating standards for compliance and penalties for non-compliance. We are hopeful that the Animal Health Proclamation, currently awaiting approval, will provide further legal support for food and feed safety inspection services. In the future, more legal instruments will be developed to ensure food safety and quality.
How do you standardize food and feed safety issues on a global and local scale?
The MoA collaborates closely with relevant government institutions to uphold national food safety standards. Ensuring the safety and quality of agricultural products destined for international markets remains a challenge, making Eritrea’s participation in the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) crucial.
Which institutions are involved in food and feed safety in Eritrea?
The national food control system involves several government bodies, such as the Ministries of Agriculture, Marine Resources, Health, and the Eritrean Standards Institution. A harmonized national food safety policy framework is needed to avoid duplicated efforts and maximize resource utilization, as food safety is a shared responsibility.
Who are the main actors in the food chain and what are their responsibilities?
The food safety production cycle involves many actors, from farmers to food handlers, consumers, and the government. Each actor has a role to play at every stage of the cycle. The MoA, through its RSD, ensures every actor fulfills their obligations through regulatory standards and awareness campaigns.
Could you tell us about the Codex Trust Fund Project launched in Eritrea?
The MoA is implementing a project in partnership with FAO, called the Codex Trust Fund Project 2A. Its objective is to enhance the profile, management, and knowledge of Codex Work in Eritrea. Three outcomes are expected from this project: improved management and consultation process for Codex work, the development of national food standards based on Codex recommendations, and the sustainability of Codex work in Eritrea.
Any final words?
Ensuring food safety is a continuous process. Let alone for Eritrea, which is relatively a new nation, food safety is an ever-challenging problem even in the developed world. Given Eritrea’s commitment to resolving challenges, we are confident that the hurdles and challenges we face now, particularly technical and human resources will be resolved gradually over the coming years.
Ministry of Agriculture