Summit addressing aflatoxin menace

Tuesday June 14 2016

Aflatoxin infestation is a serious threat to Kenya’s food security, causing a substantial portion of the harvested grains to go to waste.

Maize farmers dry their maize. Researchers say drying maize on the ground gets it in contact with the soil, where the fungi that causes aflatoxin are found. The fungal infestation is a serious threat to Kenya’s food security, causing a substantial portion of the harvested grains to go to waste. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By GERALD ANDAE
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Aflatoxin infestation continues to be a serious threat in Kenya’s food security with a substantial portion of the harvested grains going to waste as a result of this fungal infection.

Currently, Kenya is grappling with a shortage of maize that millers have attributed to high levels of aflatoxin that has seen over half of the available stocks for milling affected by the infection.

The United Nations declared this year that halving food loss by 2030 is a key Sustainable Development Goal.

Africa loses up to 30 per cent of its grain production due to poor storage facilities that has led to rising cases of aflatoxin.

Speaking ahead of the first Africa Strategic Grain Reserve Conference to be held in Nairobi today Philippe Villers, the President of GrainPro, a green, “not-only-for-profit” company says there is urgent need to improve large-scale storage, reduce food losses and protect African consumers from the serious health consequences of high aflatoxin levels.

“GrainPro is providing leadership in the second green revolution that comprises proper storage, handling and distribution of food commodities, without using chemicals or pesticides to address cases of aflatoxin,” said Mr Villers.
The Conference will focus on providing safe storage solutions for national grain reserve agencies, while bringing together the ecosystem that supports them such as the small scale farmers’ grain traders group, government ministries, researchers, funders and international organisations.

One of the major food safety and storage issues to be addressed at the conference is the high prevalence of aflatoxin found in maize and other staple commodities.

Grain millers last year partnered with Texas-based AgriLife Research in a fresh campaign to curb aflatoxin contamination.

CANCER-CAUSING MOLDS

Under the partnership, the American research firm supplied aflatoxin detection devices (flouremeta) and trained milling firm staff on how they can stay away from the killer fungus.

Aflatoxins are poisonous and cancer-causing molds that can lead to stunting in children and severe health problems in adults.

They are regularly found in improperly stored commodities such as maize, cassava, millet, rice, sorghum, and wheat.

When contaminated grain is processed, aflatoxin enters the general food supply where they have been found in both pet and human foods.

Governments often buy grain during harvest season from small farmers, creating demand when it is most needed to benefit farmer incomes.

Smallholder farmers, as the key producers of grain, are the backbone of the supply chain.

“We believe that solving the problem of post-harvest losses and securing safe, long-term storage for grains will have a major positive impact on the financial lives of small holder farmers as well as the health of their communities and environment,” says Cynthia Ryan, Director of the Schooner Africa Fund.

The government last year approved the use of chemicals that have the ability to control aflatoxin in the maize fields.

The Pest Control Products Board registered Aflasafe, which is a bio product that suppresses aflatoxin in grains, paving the way for its unhindered use in the country.