Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Farmers eating and selling their grain

By ERIC MUTAI and JACOB NG’ETICH

There are no testing kits for aflatoxin-infected maize in Embu, where farmers are eating the poisoned grain.

The government had promised to test all the maize held by farmers in 29 affected districts. It also promised to buy for destruction, any contaminated cereal for Sh1,000 to cushion farmers against losses.

This has yet to happen, so farmers are consuming and retailing the grain. Embu West district commissioner Maalim Mohamed told the Nation: “We have told transporters to ascertain that farmers have authorisation from agricultural officers to transport the grain.”

The administrator said it would be difficult to move from house to house testing the maize held by farmers, so testing kits would be based at the National Cereals and Produce Board’s depots.

But farmers who spoke to the Nation said that they did not believe that their maize was infected, arguing that they have not fallen ill after eating the grain.

Mr Mohamed refuted claims by Manyatta MP Emilio Kathuri (pictured) that there was malice on the part of the government. Mr Kathuri has urged his constituents not to sell their grain, saying the price was too low.
He branded the proposed sale an avenue for corruption.

But Mr Maalim was categorical: “There is no malice on the part of the government. We are only concerned about the health of the residents. The government will mop up all the bad maize at a cost.”

Eastern provincial commissioner Clare Omolo said mobile kits would be used to test the maize, adding that the condition of three people in hospital after consuming contaminated was getting better.

Eastern deputy PC Daniel Kurui confirmed this: “Of the 11 people who had been hospitalised, only three are still admitted to Kibwezi, Makindu, and Mutumo hospitals.”

Elsewhere, wide discrepancies in laboratory analysis reports for the maize sampled in Eastern and Coast provinces have brought into question the accuracy of the level of contamination.

According to an update report on a survey in the affected region, the difference in the laboratory results ranged from not detected to 580 parts per billion (ppb) in one farmer’s sample.

No single test concurred in the four laboratories of the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs), the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis), the National Public Health Laboratory Services (NPHLS), and the University of Nairobi (UoN).

In samples from Mr Danstan Riungu, a farmer from Imenti South for instance, Kephis found 580 ppb whereas Kebs did not detect any aflatoxins while NPHLS and the University of Nairobi found 93 and 18 ppb.

According to a laboratory assistant at Kebs, there were two aspects that could explain the discrepancy, and one was the need for homogeneity in the samples from the four laboratories.

He said what the four laboratories had done was proficiency test and what was now required was a more intense test for accurate results.

“Based on the urgency of the situation, the government went with the proficiency results of the test to inform their next cause of action because we are talking about human lives,” he said.