United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Promoting competence of food safety laboratories to safeguard consumers while boosting trade in Botswana - A contribution of food safety to SDGs


    Food safety is critical to food security and public health, and therefore relevant to a number of SDGs. Even with massive investment towards such SDGs, progress can be hampered without a good food safety control system. Reliable laboratories – vital component on these systems - help safeguard consumers; enable farmers improve production practices and sell safe food unrestricted, while ensuring that food is abundant but available. Countries like Botswana realize the importance of improving food safety to protect citizens and enhance the economy. However, weak laboratories remained an obstacle. Working with the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre, Botswana has overcome many bottlenecks.


    Cooperation to develop sound food safety laboratory capabilities helps a country like Botswana conduct tests for food locally consumed while accessing and maintaining export markets. Good laboratories are required to satisfy the local and international market. Such cooperation also ensures that laboratories are competent, sustainable and can promote local as well as regional collaboration, including the ability to help other laboratories in need in a region (Africa in this case). This also helps to narrow the gap between sister institutions such as the Ministry of Health (through National Food Control Laboratory, NFCL) and Ministry of Agriculture (through Botswana National Veterinary Laboratory, BNVL), both of which have food safety obligations to the country. All these efforts contribute to Agenda 2030.

    Contribution to SDG Implementation

    Botswana is a major beef exporter (contributing to SDG 1). Accessing markets requires reliable laboratories, also testing food for local consumption so citizens consume adequate, safe food (SDGs 2, 3). Laboratories also help farmers (SDG 5) employ good production practices. Established infrastructure involving innovative technology (SDG 9) can be used for water safety/quality (SDG 6). These capabilities contribute to decent work and economic growth (SDG 8) for beneficiaries in the food chain, also promoting responsible consumption including reduction in food waste and losses (SDG 12).

    Implementation methodologies

    Support was provided under 2 technical cooperation projects that the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre implements. One was between 2016 and 2017 where 5 scientists were trained in the analysis of a wide range of chemical hazards in foods and in the strengthening of a system to monitor chemical residues. Expert missions were also implemented, and analytical instrumentation procured including Government cost-sharing. Three institutions namely: BNVL, Division of Plant Protection (DPP) both in the Ministry of Agriculture and the NFCL benefitted. The project total cost was 569,795.11 Euros. Additional support was provided through a second project (2018-2019) where advanced training was provided, and the scope of food hazards expanded to include chemicals such as toxic metals and enhance microbiological hazard analysis at BNVL and NFCL. Ten analysts were trained, and additional equipment and analytical consumable also provided. Additional expert missions were implemented to assess project performance. The project cost was 364,019.99 Euros.


    Food trade restrictions were reported to cost Botswana ~€48 million in 2011. Botswana partnered with the Joint FAO/IAEA Center to build analytical testing at BNVL, resulting in establishment of capabilities to test foods locally instead of relying entirely on laboratories overseas, which is expensive and time consuming. Several laboratory staff were trained, modern equipment established and analytical methods transferred to BNVL and operationalized. Over 17 methods were accredited to ISO17025, and since 2017, competence maintained and accredited techniques almost doubled. BNVL now regularly tests annually at least 6,000 beef, dairy and feed samples for various hazards and exports normally. Support to NFCL also boosted its food safety testing activities, testing at least 5,000 samples of cereals, pulses, peanut butter for hazards like aflatoxins and heavy metals in initiatives including School Feeding Programme, annually. Over 330,000 primary school children benefit from the Programme.

    Factors and Constraints

    Food safety is a priority to the country from both a public health and economic perspective. Cooperation and support from governmental authorities was critical in the training of laboratory personnel, application of acquired knowledge as well as establishment and maintenance of analytical equipment. As a major beef exporter, Botswana cares about the quality and competence of its laboratories to maintain and expert the market. Government was keen to share costs of purchasing equipment and laboratories wanted to ensure accreditation which requires periodic re-assessment. Training of trainers (ToT) helps addressing staff turnover.

    Sustainability and replicability

    Government support is critical to ensure sustainability. Botswana is now among the top ten largest beef exporters to the European Union, earning the country about USD 80 million a year and for this analytical laboratories such as the BNVL that contribute to this economic benefit to the country, deserve support and for this Government has not let the laboratory down. Remaining competent also attracts as fee for service from end users such as the food industry. The good practice of remaining proficient helps BNVL and NFCL to train scientists from other African countries such as Angola, Burundi, Lesotho, Niger, Seychelles, Uganda and Zimbabwe, among others, to help build and expand their own capabilities. Some of these countries have now established their own laboratories thanks to cooperation with Botswana, with the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre playing a coordinating role at times.

    COVID-19 Impact

    Challenges attributed to COVID-19 include: • Advanced training of more staff was affected due to travel restrictions. • Installation of new equipment and related training also delayed. Virtual support was provided on site-preparation for an equipment’s installation. • Lockdown required rationing of some staff as well as a then socio-distancing was needed; nevertheless, the laboratories were considered essential service. • Instrumentation service maintenance was a challenge as engineers couldn’t come to the countries. • Timely delivery of procurements was also affected. • Local costs of purchasing lab items also increased as suppliers were fewer or couldn’t conduct business as usual, operational costs were also affected. • Field sampling for lab testing was not as smooth as before.

    Contact Name
    Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
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    Geographical coverage

    This practice has also been benefiting other African countries.

    01 January 2016 (start date)
    31 December 2020 (date of completion)
    Contact Information

    Dongxin, Programme Coordinator