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Informal food markets more hygienic than supermarkets,study

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Milk and meat from informal markets, which feeds most households in Africa due to their affordability, is fresher and safer than most of what is stocked in supermarkets a new study now reveals.

Scene of food at teeming chaotic open air food market are common place in Kenya and across many countries in Africa. In urban areas where the population has been recording unprecedented highs, the markets have been cheaper alternatives to millions of dwellers who cannot afford the pricey goods at retail stores. Such markets are treated with suspicion and treated as health hazards. But a study by the International Livestock Research Institute released now seems to disapprove of such perceptions.

Delia Grace, who leads the food safety program at the Nairobi-based organization, said in a statement that the study looked at eight countries, including the West Africa nations of Mali and Ghana, the East Africa nation of Kenya and the southern African coastal nation of Mozambique.

“We are wrong to think that we can just adopt solutions developed in wealthy countries that favor large commercial operations over small producers,” she said.

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It’s an unexpected conclusion that may bolster the continent’s informal food sector, which has long been the main source of food for many Africans, especially for the poor, for those in rural communities and for people with few transport options. ILRI estimates that informal markets still supply between 85 and 95 percent of all food consumed in sub-Saharan Africa. And their supremacy is unlikely to be dented by the continent’s spreading supermarket chains: by 2040, ILRI estimates, informal markets will still supply up to 70 percent of consumers’ demand.

The organization also notes that small markets also have a necessary place in the economy.   

“Attempts to make food safer by enforcing high standards can have unwanted effects, such as preventing small farmers and women from earning income from their work,” the report said.

In Nairobi, informal sellers say they are also concerned about food safety. Dairy farmer Simon Kinyanjui said he hadn’t seen a health inspector in at least two years, but said he takes precautions.

“I make sure the milking water is boiled and he washes his hands before milking and so there is no single day we have had complaints from the customers of stale milk,” he said. Milk vendor Christine Wamboi said she then takes an additional step. “When I receive the milk I boil it first to confirm the freshness,” she said. For many Africans, where they buy their food is not a choice so much as a necessity. Informal markets often offer lower prices and greater convenience.

The researchers noted that these open air markets are not just vital, they may even be, well, cool. After all, researchers noted, informal markets are the embodiment of an aesthetic and environmental movement that has spread like wildfire in wealthy Western nations – the trend of eating locally sourced products, often bought directly from the producers.  

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