Researchers and private sector team up to fight aflatoxins, boost grain trade in East Africa

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By Verenardo Meeme, Rootooba, 27 August 2020

East African food safety experts are teaming up by sharing resources to reduce aflatoxin contamination in grains to safe levels, a move which could enable the region meet international food safety standards, experts say.

Through the signed agreement between the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Eastern Africa Grain Council (EAGC), experts will collaboratively advance the efforts of tackling aflatoxin contamination of grains in Africa.

This will complement the two organizations’ efforts towards safe grain that meets local and export standards.

According to the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA), Africa loses an estimated US$670 million in rejected export trade annually due to contamination by aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins are highly poisonous chemicals produced by a naturally occurring fungus known as Aspergillus flavus. The fungus is primarily found in soils and other substrates and attacks important crops such as maize and groundnut while in the field and in storage when they are not dried and stored properly.

Aflatoxin poses a serious health threat to both human beings and animals. Acute poisoning as a result of consuming foods with extremely high levels of aflatoxin can lead to instant death. On the other hand, chronic exposure, as a result of consuming foods with above-the-allowable safe levels, can result in lowered immunity, low birth weight, and irreversible stunting in children and liver cancer.

“Aflatoxin contamination is a serious food safety issue in sub-Saharan Africa and a major impediment to trade. We are therefore excited about this partnership with EACG that will, among others, support efforts to create awareness on aflatoxin and mitigation strategies. This includes the use of the effective, safe, affordable and easy-to-use aflasafe technology. This will contribute towards the realization of our vision for an aflatoxin-safe, food-secure Africa,” said Kenton Dashiell, IITA Deputy Director General for Partnerships for Delivery at the virtual signing of the memorandum of understanding (MoU).

In the agreement, experts will collaboratively identify best practices in food safety and quality control among value chain actors hence boosting the ongoing work to tame aflatoxins as experts seek to explore the potential for intra- and inter-African grain trade.

 “By reducing aflatoxin contamination in grains to safe levels, Africa could meet international food safety standards, said the EAGC Executive Director, Gerald Masila, ”thereby creating a huge opportunity for increases grain exports.”

In the partnership agreement, IITA, a not-for-profit research institution that generates innovations to address major agricultural challenges in Africa, and EAGC, a membership organization that brings together key players across the grain value chain in Eastern and Southern Africa, will, among others, promote best practices and proven technologies to manage aflatoxin, IITA press statement reads.

Technologies such as Aflasafe™, an innovative, safe, and natural product that drastically reduces aflatoxin contamination in maize and groundnuts, will be promoted as part of an integrated aflatoxin management strategy.

The Aflasafe technology had been registered for commercial use and transferred to the private sector for scale-up. To date, 14 products have been registered in 10 countries (Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal, The Gambia, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique) with more under development in 12 countries.

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