Kenyans at risk of scurvy and night blindness for not eating clean vegetables and fruits

Hannah Mumbi operates vegetables at Food Fiti Zone located in Banana, Kiambu County [Nanjinia Wamuswa, Standard]

A timeless adage has it that prevention is better than cure. This, perhaps is the principle behind World Health Organisation's (WHO) recommendation that people should consume more than 400 grammes of vegetables and fruits everyday as measure to improve overall health.

But Kenyans won't listen.

A new WHO survey says Kenyans consume only 100-130 grammes per day. This low intake of vegetables and fruits predisposes us to risks of various Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), such as night blindness, scurvy and bleeding disorder.

It is not merely the quantity of vegetables and fruits on the table that matters. The safety of vegetables and fruits also count. Consuming unsafe food poses significant danger WHO data underscores the alarming fact that one out of 10 people worldwide fall ill as a result of contaminated food each year and over 200 diseases are caused by eating contaminated food.

Tragically, children under five years carry 40 per cent of the food-borne disease burden.

Addressing food safety requires concerted efforts from policymakers, food safety authorities, farmers and food business operators. Consumers also play a crucial role as watchdogs in ensuring food safety.

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) is a major stakeholder whose focus is to tackle human suffering caused by malnutrition by contributing to accessibility and consumption of nutritious safe food for everyone, especially the most vulnerable to malnutrition.

GAIN addresses food safety issues at three levels, at the source, supply or distribution and last mile vendor (mama mboga).

At the source, GAIN is collaborating with the county departments of agriculture to train farmers, suppliers or aggregators and market committees on good agriculture practices and Good Handling Practices as per KS 1758 standards.

James Kimondo from Gitangu area of Muguga, Kiambu county, is one of GAIN's beneficiaries. Since 1998, Kimondo has been growing various vegetables, including managu, saga, cabbages, terere, spinach, onions and tomatoes.

He says he began vegetable farming after failing to secure employment. He briefly ventured into cut flower farming but abandoned it due to poor export markets.

Kimondo says his encounter with GAIN and agriculture officers from Kiambu county has equipped him to produce safe foods for his customers.

“I use clean water for irrigation and also when washing the vegetables after harvesting. Through my high standard hygiene, l have cultivated a reputation for my vegetables in markets across Nairobi, especially Muthurwa and Gikomba. People know Muguga vegetables are the best because they are safe and clean,” he says.

Through continuous training, Kimondo has learned to minimise chemical usage and opting for compost manure that does not harm the environment. He says he uses clean boxes or sacks and a clean car or handcart when transporting the vegetables to the market.

He seems to understand the importance of maintaining cleanliness.

“Any lapse in safety standards can jeopardise my farming,” Kimondo confides, adding that linkages to ready markets due to his good agricultural practises has greatly reduced post-harvest loses in his farm.

Kipng’eno Mutai, the Kiambu county GAIN project coordinator says the organisation wants to alleviate human suffering caused by malnutrition through projects in Nakuru, Kiambu, Machakos, Mombasa and Nairobi.

At the heart of their effort lies a commitment to increase vegetable consumption.

Mutai emphasises the importance of transforming food systems from production to consumption, with keen focus on food safety.

“Through collaboration with national and county governments, we conduct extensive training on good agricultural practices, transport protocols and market reediness to ensure that vegetables reach consumers fresh and free from contamination,” he says.

Mutai also says GAIN is facilitating the formation and capacity building of the county food safety committees which are critical for food safety coordination to eliminate gaps and duplication in implementing food safety control actions.  

GAIN has also contracted Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) to carry out maximum residue levels (MRLs) tests at the farm gate, aggregation centres, markets and the mama mboga kiosks. The results will be disseminated in the various county food safety committees for necessary action.

The organisation works closely with 1800 farmers in Kiambu and 10,000 mama mbogas across the country, building their capacity to deliver fresh, safe vegetables to markets and consumers.

Mutai says they have brands called Food Fiti Zones which communicate to consumers on the need to eat more and fresh vegetables. They are the last points of purchase that deliver consumers expectations on freshness, safety, proximity, variety and taste.

“At the heart, of Food Fiti Zone is the mama mboga, women with makeshift stalls and other small retailers that sell vegetables to loyal and frequent consumers,” Mutai explains, adding that the women are trained on food safety, personal and stall hygiene.

One such mama mboga is Hannah Mumbi who operates a Food Fiti Zone in Karuri area of Banana in Kiambaa sub county.

Mumbi says when she took over from her mother, who has sold vegetables for close to 30 years, hers was continue managing the business for the family's livelihood.

“I have since learned that dealing with vegetables and other foodstuff is not just about making money. There is the aspect of food safety which determines quality of lives of the people. Nowadays, l make sure the stall and its environ is clean, wash vegetables with clean water and wrap them in clean bags. We also have dustbins where we keep our wastes,” she says.

Mumbi has gained all this after her encounter with GAIN and officers from Kiambu county's Agriculture department who have taken them through various training on food handling and food safety.

She says she maintains cleanliness through washing vegetables using clean water and clean wrappers. Her stall is clean, and arranged neatly. There are dustbins where she puts dirt as she awaits disposal.

Mumbi sells different vegetables and fruits, among them tomatoes, bananas, onions sukuma wiki, cabbages, spinach and dhania. She gets her supplies from Limuru, Wangige, Kinangop and Kabete.

The happy Mumbi confides that the training and embracing Food Fiti Zones has come with immense benefits.

“The consumers were also empowered and learned that here is where fresh and safe vegetables are sold and that they should always look for these brands. In the process, customers have increased. When l took over, l used to make less than Sh1000. Now I am selling over Sh1500 per day.”

Reginah Waithera, another trader, recalls her interaction with GAIN and the Kiambu county officers who visited and interrogated her about the vegetables business and how she maintains cleanliness.

At that time, about a year ago, Waithera was just in vegetable business, without much knowledge and attention on food safety issues. After the training, she now has a different view of vegetables.

“The training has empowered me to understand the importance of being clean, keeping vegetables, stalls and their environs tidy,” she says.

Today, she says, she has many customers and her sales have doubled from Sh1000 to over Sh2000 in a day. The organisation has also linked her to farmers who do good agricultural practices.

“That means, by the time l get the vegetables, they are already safe. I am finding it difficult to get supplies from strangers,” she says, adding that this ensures traceability.

Mutai says the Food Fiti Zones were conceived as a catchment area around low-income estates in urban and peri-urban areas, covering a minimum of 1000 households. The project plans to establish 1000 zones, targeting 4.7million low-income consumers.

An estimated 3.9 million deaths worldwide were attributable to inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption in 2017.


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