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Lusaka, Tuesday, November 14, 2017: COMESA and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, (FAO) have embarked on a joint effort to improve food security and nutrition by addressing Mycotoxins, which affect staple foods in the region such as maize and sorghum.

Subsequently, they have invited sanitary and phytosanitary experts from COMESA member States and Tanzania and Mozambique for a three-day training on Risk Assessment and Management of Mycotoxins. The training began today in Lusaka, Zambia and is intended to equip the participants with the knowledge to understand the key principles of chemical risk assessment.

Addressing the participants, the FAO Representative Mr George Okech said, dietary exposure to mycotoxins in many countries, particularly in Africa remained unacceptably high.

“There is mounting evidence of the possible linkage between aflatoxins and stunting further underlining the urgency of improved control of mycotoxin contamination in order to achieve targeted food and nutrition security outcomes,” he said.

Assistant Secretary Ambassador Kipyego Cheluget said the varied human and institutional capacity across Member States was a major constraint contributing to SPS trade related barriers in the COMESA Free Trade area.

“Differences in standards, laws and regulations, are the leading causes of non-tariff barriers or the failure to find convergence in the SPS standards and regulations that MS enforce for trade,” said Ambassador Cheluget. These are in soft infrastructure - such as national SPS surveillance and monitoring systems - and the hard infrastructure - the diagnosis and quarantine infrastructure.

It is for this reason, he said, that the SPS Strategy (2016-2020) was developed to narrow the variations in capacity and guide Member States on the harmonization process.

Ambassador Cheluget pointed out that capacity development is not without challenges as COMESA trade flows are characterized by high levels of informality, estimated at over 70%.

“This further complicates the regulatory frameworks that we are trying to harmonize,” he said.

Through commitment and partnerships with the FAO, he said COMESA, will competently discharge the responsibility of leading the regional integration efforts. In this regard, the two organizations will, in December, sign an agreement to implement some aspects of the SPS/Technical Barriers to Trade Programme under the 11th European Development Fund.

Mr Okech called for full cooperation and active engagement of representatives from COMESA Member States participating in the workshop to play a crucial role in following up within their respective countries and in providing the necessary elements to arrive at sound and harmonized standards.