Aflatoxins threatening regional food security, trade, says experts

Wednesday October 04 2017
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Dar es Salaam. Policy makers in the East African Community and partner states have warned that aflatoxins are a major threat to food security in the region and affect trade in food and agricultural commodities.

The regional experts are attending week-long training on aflatoxins with the focus on how to reduce food contamination.

Senior official at EAC Secretariat Fahari Marwa said yesterday during a press briefing that the region needed urgent measures to address aflatoxin threat.

“East Africa is a hotspot for aflatoxins – highly poisonous chemicals produced by Aspergillus found in soils,’’ he said.

“Aflatoxins affect both humans and animals, when they eat contaminated food and cause liver decease (including cancer). In children, aflatoxins impair growth, leading to stunting. Acute exposure can lead to death,’’ he added.

He said there were on-going efforts by the East African Secretariat in partnership with Africa Union (AU) and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to intervene.

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According to him, aflatoxins produce moulds, affect staple crops such as maize and groundnuts. “These are the most vulnerable crops to aflatoxins.”

He also noted that aflatoxins affected trade as grains that had high levels of the toxins could not be exported.

“The multi-sector impacts and effects of aflatoxins constitute a significant challenge to agriculture, health and trade. It is one of the challenges that undermines desired levels of social and economic transformation and regional integration in the East Africa Community,” said Mr Marwa.

The EAC has been spearheading interventions aimed at mitigating incidences and impacts of aflatoxins to enhance food utilisation, nutrition, and food safety .The secretariat has developed an EAC aflatoxin prevention and control strategy, which was approved by the 10th sectorial council on agriculture and food security and will be presented to the Full Council of Ministers in November 2017.

However, Dr Victor Mnyonga, IITA Director of East Africa said Alfasafe was developed by IITA in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture Research Service USDA-ARS and other local and international partners.

“Aflasafe is made up of mould of the same family as the type that produces aflatoxins, but which does not produce toxins and can displace their toxins producing relative from the soil,’’ he said.

“Aflasafe has been able to consistently reduce aflatoxin contamination in crops by over 80 per cent in trials across the continent,” said Dr Mnyonga

Aflatoxin is a silent killer. About 30 per cent of the people suffering from cancer in Africa were found to have been affected by aflatoxins.

“Testing in laboratories is the only sure way to know if aflatoxins are present in food and feeds, but this is very expensive. Therefore, reducing the mould that produces aflatoxins is one of the surest ways to reduce contamination,” said Dr Mnyonga.