Sunday, July 12, 2015

Food and drugs experts from in and outside the country recently converged at Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NMAIST) for two days workshop to chart out ways of suppressing one of the most deadly food poisons.

Aflatoxin is a poisonous chemical contaminating maize, groundnuts, and other key staple foods in the country, making them unfit for human and livestock consumption.

The chemical is secreted by a naturally occurring fungus Aspergillus flavus dubbed silent killer, as it causes liver cancer and suppresses the body’s immunity when the contamination reaches high levels.

“Studies also link aflatoxin to stunted growth among children,” Dr Martin Kimanya, a senior lecturer with the NMAIST, says.

Dr Kimanya is leading a three-man team tasked with analysing the gravity of the poison reported to have killed at least 125 people out of over 300 Kenyans found with the chemical in their blood. 
The team has devised an action plan that seeks to develop a safe and natural bio-control technology that can effectively reduce aflatoxin contamination of maize and groundnuts in the field and during storage. 
Dr Kimanya says the analysis had also revealed that maize, the country’s number one staple food, was way above the recommended maximum limits, citing Bukombe in Shinyanga Region, where the chemical was traced in 80 per cent of the maize sold in the district.

“Ninety nine per cent of the sampled children were found with aflatoxin in their blood,” says Dr Kimanya, adding that Tanzania was incurring an average of $332 million worth of loss in terms of health challenges arising from the chemical.

“This is besides the loss incurred in trade and food security,” he says. The three-man team has developed a five-year draft aflatoxin action plan for controlling aflatoxin in the country.
If stakeholders validate the plan today, it will go a long way in improving the health and livelihoods of millions of families in the country and reduce loss of income from banned trade of contaminated food. 
Ms Yokobety Malisa, the acting director of Coordination of Government Business in the Prime Minister’s Office, says tonnes of exported maize were once returned into the country after the grains were found to contain the poisonous chemical.
Tanzania is among five pilot countries in Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA), a flagship programme in the Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture in African Union Commission (AUC), is focusing aflatoxin mitigation efforts.
According to the PACA programme manager, Dr Amare Ayalew, the partnership works with governments to improve their effectiveness and efficiency in tackling the aflatoxin challenge in Africa.
PACA was created at the recommendations of the 7th Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Partnership Platform where the urgent need to control mycotoxin contamination was emphasized.

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