A leading Gambian consumer rights activist has raised eye brows over the growing fast food and supermarket culture while naming and condemning three supermarkets linked to recent major food scandals in the tiny West African nation.
Mr. Alpha Jallow, the President of Gambia’s Consumer Protection Consortium (CPC) expressed the concern and condemnation during an exclusive interview with this reporter recently held in Serre Kunda, Gambia’s largest commercial capital.“Basically, we discovered that three big supermarkets –‘Kairaba Supermarket’ Right Choice and Alviagh Supermarkets were linked to major food scandals as they were caught selling illegally expired food stuffs,” Mr. Jallow disclosed.
According to him, many major food scandals involve mainly importers of food stuffs like rice and sometimes retailers dealing in supermarket business in the Gambia. He explained how those found wanting turned the country into a dumping ground for expired food stuffs. He said Kairaba Supermarket, one of the major culprits was prosecuted and fined having been caught dealing in expired food stuffs.
Mr. Jallow narrates how importers and retailers at times bring in expired goods put them in warehouses where they tamper with the real expiry date by “redating with fake dates” before dumping the food stuffs in the market at a very low price without the knowledge of the unsuspecting consumers.“Many supermarkets were involved in selling toxic/ expired food stuffs and it became a national issue. It is very common. It is a common concern for all consumers and consumer associations across the country,” Mr. Jallow complained.
Turning his attention on the dangers of rapidly growing fast food culture in the Gambia at the expense of local food stuffs, the CPC President said: “First and foremost, we know that there is lot of junk food products imported from Europe and dumped into Africa including the Gambia .These range from expired food stuffs which are used to process and prepare fast food. Some of these canned / tinned food products are mostly found in supermarkets which are toxic many a time and can cause ill health and even death.”
Food Safety, whose job? The Food Safety and Quality Authority of The Gambia (FSQA) is established by an Act of
parliament called “The Food Safety and Quality Act” in 2011 and it became operational in 2013.
FSQA is the sole National Competent Authority with powers of delegation mandated to
officially control the safety and quality of food and animal feed whether locally produced
imported or destined for export. The authority has a culture of recruiting competent persons with expertise in disciplines such as food science and engineering, Food Safety and Quality Management among other things.
Its mission is geared towards strengthening compliance to standards by food business operators to ensure the availability of safe and quality food for all. Its core mandates are formulation of secondary regulations, registration and licensing of establishments, developing and enforcing secondary legislations (regulations) compliance inspection of food business operators/establishment (border control, local markets, all food establishments, export and imports, sampling and analysis of food products for compliance verification prosecution of non-compliant food business etc.
The overall objective of FSQA is to ensure that the consumer has access to good quality, safe and nutritious food and food products. The authority has the responsibility of protecting public health by reducing the risk of food-borne diseases and providing food safety education and information to consumers and the food industry.
However, questions have been raised as to how competent and efficient the food safety office has been doing its job considering the many food scandals happening in town. Gambia is known for creating institutions but whether those institutions are functioning well to serve their purpose is opened to debates. For example, only last October a similar scandal hit the health sector involving cough syrup made in India that claimed 70 children’s lives despite the existence of Gambia’s Medicines Control Board.
On October 5, 2022, the WHO issued an alert against four cough and cold syrups – Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup, and Magrip N Cold Syrup – that it says may be responsible for the deaths. The syrups were made in India and exported into the Gambia.
Gambia’s population of 2.4 million now rely on largely imported food stuffs for their survival as against the olden times when people used to live on home grown food stuffs. But now Gambia imports over 92 percent of its food to feed its population thanks to the growing fast food and supermarket culture.
Meanwhile, addressing a recent press conference, Halifa Salla, a retired politician and respected sociologist cried out over Gambia’s high dependency on imported food stuffs. He decried: “the Gambia is importing most of her consumable food items from outside.”
“You look at Gambia; we are importing most of the things that we are consuming. In 2020 alone, over 1.2 billion Dalais in terms of cereals, over D2 billion in terms of rice. We are importing eggs, potatoes and onions,” he said.
“We have very find weather. We do not have snow like Ukraine or Russia. We have waterways everywhere – underground water sources. Others would come to our farming communities and sign contracts with them. They will use the same farmers to grow bananas, export it and make millions while our villages and our village development committees are sharing pittance,” he added.
“Essentially, governments must be governments of thinkers. That is why governments are governments – indirect exercise of power by the people. Why should I give you my might to exercise if you cannot serve me? Therefore, our problem is not Ukraine. Our problem is us – our policy. “It is our capacity to understand our problems and find solutions to them.” Mr. Sallah was reacting to a comment by Gambian President, Adama Barrow who recently blamed the soaring cost of food in the Gambia on the war in Ukraine.
Nutrition Specialist’s view: Mrs. Haddy Corooks a senior official at Gambia’s National Nutrition Agency in an interview with this reporter, drew a parallel of importance between nutrition and socio-economic development of a nation. She stressed the need for Gambia to pay attention to nutrition for the country to move forward.
“Mainstreaming nutrition into development policies, programs and legislations hunger and malnutrition are integral components of the inter-connected and overarching problems of poverty and deprivation,” she remarked.
“The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the National Development Plan (NDP) have recognized hunger and malnutrition as significant factors impeding sustained human development. The Gambia is on course to meet some of the global nutrition targets for maternal, infant, and young child nutrition (MIYCN).”
Adding: “some progress has been made towards achieving the target of reducing anemia among women of reproductive age, with 44% of women aged 15 to 49 years now affected and achieving the low birth weight target with 10% of infants having low weight at birth.”
According to some statistics, the Gambia has however shown limited progress towards achieving the diet-related non-communicable disease (NCD) targets, with an estimated 17.4% of adult women (aged 18 years and over) and 7.1% of adult men living with obesity. However, obesity prevalence is lower than the regional average of 20.7% for women and 9.2% for men. At the same time, diabetes is estimated to affect 9.4% of adult women and 11.6% of adult men. Some people blame influx of junk food as the cause of obesity in the Gambia.
Meanwhile other official reports have also indicated that in the Gambia, malnutrition is a major health issue. In four of the seven regions of the country (Basse, Janjangbure, Kuntaur and Mansa Konko) areas, eight percent of the population is food insecure or highly vulnerable to food insecurity, with the most vulnerable groups being women and children. Statistics indicate that food insecurity increased from 8 percent in 2016 to 13.4 percent in 2021. It disproportionately affects rural households (23.9 percent) more than urban ones (10.8 percent).
Locally produced food in these areas does not last more than six months. Moreover, since the Gambia is largely dependent on rainfall with only five percent of land under cultivation equipped with irrigation, most rural poor households must face a two-to-four-month lean period during the rainy season, when supplies must be obtained on a cash basis or by barter
Conclusion: To conclude, for Mr. Jallow of CPC which is a civil society apex body for Gambian consumers, it is every body’s business when it comes to food safety. He made a clarion call for all hands to be on deck against food scandals and culprits of those using Gambia as a dumping ground. He emphasizes that it is a business for every consumer to ensure that good and healthy food is sold to them in the market.
Mr. Jallow also joined in the chorus –“my Food is African” while calling on Gambians “to eat what they grow, and grow what they eat”. He also preached against the growing fast food culture whereby many urban dwellers eat out in restaurants consuming imported cheap food stuffs at the expense of healthy and more nutritious local diets and dishes.
Momodou L Jaiteh,
Banjul, The Gambia.