November 25, 2013. Over the past years, the European regulations reduced African groundnuts export by 670 million U.S. dollars due to the aflatoxin, the toxic chemical produced by fungus that is hazardous when eaten, can causes cancer and may suppress immune systems, reduce nutrient absorption and stunt the development of infants.
Seeing the threats to food security as result of the damage done by aflatoxin, scientists in East Africa has been forced to come all out in uniform to help combat the problem.
“We have teamed up to improve nutritional status and food safety in Eastern Africa as well as increased capacity to detect and reduce the presence of aflatoxin in the food supply,” a senior scientist and project leader, Dr. Jagger Harvey, said during an interview with Xinhua in Nairobi.
He said that under the umbrella of Bioscience, East and Central Africa (BECA), the Capacity and Action for Aflatoxin Reduction in Eastern Africa (CAAREA) has been formed following the complications and deaths caused by aflatoxin in the region.
“The platform has accessed researchers with new research tools and capacity to help fight the scourge of aflatoxin,” he added.
Jagger said that the platform has led to the production of aflatoxin risk maps across Kenya and Tanzania to serve as tools to visualize the aflatoxin risk.
“We have also adapted ICT based modeling tools that could soon predict where aflatoxin risks are emerging as the farming season unfolds towards harvest,” Jagger noted, adding the project is also keen in developing new maize varieties for Kenya and Tanzania to help save farmers from the perennial losses.
The platform is being funded by the Australian government to develop cost effective methods to detect aflatoxin contamination in maize and maize products and develop and deploy a range of tools to reduce aflatoxin in food supply.
“The multi disciplinary five countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia) team now screens maize germplasm for aflatoxin susceptibility levels,” Jagger added.
The BECA laboratory that is based at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is equipped with the latest diagnostic technologies for use by African scientists who are conducting research on agricultural challenges.
The initiative is currently collaborating with the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) and other regional bodies in contributing to the development of policies that will help improve food safety and trade in the continent.
“We are going to test on farm interventions next year to help millions of farmers who rely on maize in Kenya and Tanzania,” Jagger said.
According to ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith, even though progress is being made, research still need to be done to help eradicate the problem as it poses a big problem to farmers and also denies consumers their favorite staple food.
Smith observed that since Kenyans consume more milk than any other country in Africa, risks associated with aflatoxin could be higher.
“Despite proof that aflatoxins seep into livestock products through contaminated feed, possibility of people becoming sick after consuming the milk is being studied,” he said.
A project that is funded by the Finland Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently carrying out series of studies to assess risks, economic impact and technologies to reduce risk along the Kenyan dairy feed chain.
The project is looking at assessing the consumption of milk and milk products in different regions in the country.
Globally about 1.2 billion dollars in trade is lost annually due to aflatoxin contamination, with Africa losing 450 million dollars each year due to lost trade.
This now forces exporters from Africa and other regions to comply with the food safety and quality requirements of importing countries.