The government has stepped up its fight against aflatoxin contamination in maize and rice by investing in research into the fungal toxin.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Felix Koskei this week commissioned a regional research centre at Katumani in Machakos that will carry out studies into the poison and share knowledge with farmers and other stakeholders.
Koskei also presided over the ground-breaking ceremony for a factory that will manufacture alfasafe— a biological agent that prevents aflatoxin infection in crops.
The plant, whose construction will take one year, is expected to produce Aflasafe KE01 which will serve the entire East African region, according to Dr Victor Manyon, the scientist behind the invention.
FARMERS TO BENEFIT
Sorghum farmers in Machakos, Makueni, Kitui and Taita-Taveta counties are set to benefit from the development as the grain will be used in the manufacture of the agent.
Aflasafe, which has already been given provisional approval by the Pest Control Board, is capable of reducing contamination in maize by up to 98 per cent, according to Koskei.
The product was developed by Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) in collaboration with International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, United States Department of Agriculture (Agricultural Research Services), and African Agricultural Technology Foundation.
Koskei said the facility will cost $800,000 (Sh71 million and various partners have committed $750,000 (Sh66 million). The plant is expected to produce 15 tones of Aflasafe per week.
Speaking at the event, Koskei said 155,000 bags of aflatoxin-contaminated maize would be destroyed soon by incineration.
The ministry, he said, has set aside close to Sh100 million for the destruction of affected stocks. Some 1,000 officers have also been trained to help control the toxin, he added.
Failure to dry maize to the required moisture level (13.7) has been blamed for aflatoxin infection and the CS said the government had distributed over 2,000 portable grain moisture testing gadgets to help farmers get it right.
The alfasafe factory is the second such facility to be set up in Africa after the one in Nigeria, according to KALRO Katumani Centre Director Charles Kariuki.
Dr Kariuki said aflatoxin is a silent killer that is chronically affecting many people and urged international collaboration in fighting it.
In 2003, over 120 people died after consuming aflatoxin-infected maize.
According to experts, aflatoxin is not necessarily a post-harvest problem, as maize can be contaminated while still in the field.
After harvesting, minimising of moisture content and maintaining grain integrity (avoiding breakages), sorting, packaging and alkaline treatment are other post-harvest interventions that prevent aflatoxin infection.