Ideally, consumer safety should be a primary focus of any food production or supply system and should be designed with consumer participation for accountability. However, a lot of times this is not the case due to information asymmetry in the market, as one side is more informed than the other, with producers and processors being more informed on the status of the products than the consumers.
The quality and safety of food is in many cases only recognized after consumption results in adverse effects. Food safety is increasingly being recognised as an important issue for sustainable food systems and markets. As the world increasingly becomes a global village, ensuring food safety poses new challenges not only to policymakers but also value chain actors and most importantly, consumers. The dairy industry is undoubtedly one of the single largest sub sectors in agriculture contributing to the Kenyan economy, household incomes and more importantly to food security.
The sector’s share to agricultural GDP and overall GDP is 14 per cent and 4.5 per cent respectively. Despite its strategic importance, Kenya’s dairy sector remains largely unregulated, with the bulk of milk sold in its raw unprocessed form in informal markets. There have been reports of unscrupulous value chain actors engaging in actions that compromise safety of milk by introducing contaminants, which are detrimental to the health of consumers
Transforming the dairy sector into a globally competitive value chain can provide a pathway to wealth creation and high quality life with high public health benefits to consumers. A recent study published by 3R Kenya Project on quality-based milk payment system indicates that investing in milk quality can result in public health benefits up to Sh44 per kilo of milk consumed.
Hence, having efficient dairy production in terms of quality will highly contribute to Kenya’s economic development envisioned in the Big Four Agenda by promoting health and food and nutrition security.Consumer welfare can be enhanced through empowering consumers with information to enable them take personal action to demand for safety and also reduce their risk of exposure to foodborne illness.
In countries like The Netherlands and South Africa, to bridge information asymmetry, dairy processors’ organisations have taken the initiative to create consumer education and awareness as an important task, and have active programmes to do this.
This is managed through creating synergies with consumer organisations which essentially builds trust among dairy chain actor, dairy regulatory agency and consumers and has resulted in vibrant, resilient dairy markets in these regions.
In Kenya, dairy associations in partnership with consumer organisations and Kenya Consumer Protection Advisory committee – the legally mandated body to ensure consumer protection can work together to ensure consumers have access to full information and that their welfare is promoted. Consumers should be sensitised to demand quality and safety and seek redress where this is not met. Without informed consumers driving a hard bargain, businesses can become complacent and lose focus on becoming more efficient or investing to improve on quality and safety. Government needs also to ensure level playing field for all value chain actors by enforcing milk quality compliance to existing standards. Policy incentives for quality improvements by processors such as tax exemptions on laboratory test kits and milk installations such as chillers should be provided.
MARTIN MULWA, Programme assistant, Consumer Unity and Trust Society, Nairobi.