The two-year partnership will establish food safety guidelines for local suppliers to improve the availability of safe foods for those in need.
Conversations between the two began at the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) last year in Rome.
Mars said with there is a learning process about how to work together but at the end of the two years it hopes to extend the partnership.
Manufacturing POV on food safety
Dave Crean, vice president corporate R&D at Mars Incorporated, said food safety is fundamental - when food is safe it empowers economies and creates stability, and that benefits everyone.
“As a food manufacturer we know a lot about how to make safe products, we use a lot of technology, and make a variety of products,” he told FoodQualityNews.
“WFP also has that understanding but perhaps not from a manufacturing point of view. So by having access to our insights, our aim is to help enhance their understanding of food safety.”
Crean said food safety remains a huge global challenge.
“At Mars we believe the private sector is perfectly placed to help raise standards in food safety and security through the sharing of food safety knowledge and expertise, and more than that, we have a responsibility to do so,” he said.
“That said, no single organisation can do this on their own, so these issues need to be addressed through multi-sector, integrated initiatives or what we in Mars call ‘uncommon collaborations’ – our work with WFP is just one example of that.
“The best way to tackle local food safety issues is through working in partnership with those who have a unique insight into the particular food safety challenges on a local level.”
WFP's policy is to buy food as close as possible to where it is needed to help sustain local economies and save time and money.
It purchases more than two million metric tons of food every year and at least three quarters comes from developing countries - including over 790 metric tons in Africa in 2013.
Mars will provide technical expertise to inform food safety processes of WFP, and will fund the recruitment of a full-time expert within WFP based in Nairobi, dedicated to food safety.
This person will lead expanded food safety initiatives in Africa, working with local suppliers to improve procurement of food products.
Mars will guide this process through workshops, auditing of suppliers and lab analyses.
Tackling health challenges of food safety
Crean said its early days in the context of the WFP partnership.
“The more food safety expertise and knowledge the food industry can share, the better; for Africa and all regions across the globe,” he said.
“The data are patchy but at last count the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, 2011) estimated that some 2,000 people die in Africa each day from food safety related illnesses.
“The food safety issues experienced in this region also lead to loss of supply chains and cripple economies by preventing countries from being able to meet import standards in developed markets. The food safety challenges that affect Africa are complex but it’s clear something has to be done.”
Mars is planning to support the African Union Commission Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) to help African farmers control aflatoxins in food crops such as peanuts and maize, and reduce health impacts among women and children.
It is involved in the African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC) – a collaboration of universities and organisations to sequence the genomes of 101 African crops, and addressing concerns around aflatoxins in plant breeding in Ethiopia.
The firm also created its food safety platform with IBM Research - the “Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain” – in January that will investigate how genomics can make food safer.
“This partnership will enable WFP to further develop its procurement policies and ensure that locally sourced food gets to those who need it safely and efficiently,” said Jay Aldous, WFP’s director of private partnerships.