Regional and international experts in agriculture, health, research and trade have drawn up a plan of action for the control of aflatoxins in Africa, following a strategy development workshop organized by the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa held on 10-12 April 2013 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
“Control of aflatoxins is needed to achieve greater agricultural development, food security and improve health, particularly in Africa where contamination is widespread and often acute,” said Yemi Akinbamijo, head of the Agriculture and Food Security Division of the African Union Commission.
The workshop participants identified five priority strategic thematic areas for action:
- Research and technology for control of aflatoxins
- Legislation, policies and standards in the management of aflatoxin in Africa
- Growing commerce and trade while protecting lives from aflatoxins
- Enhancing capacity building on aflatoxin management, control and regulatory processes to ensure reduced exposure
- Public awareness, advocacy and communication
Aflatoxins are highly toxic metabolites produced by the mould Aspergillus flavus and known to cause suppression of the immune system, liver disease and death in both humans and animals.
Aspergillus can grow in a wide range of foods and feed and thrive under favourable growth conditions of high temperature and moisture content.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 25% of the world’s food crops are affected by aflatoxins, with countries in the tropics and subtropics at most risk.
Aflatoxin contamination can occur before crops are harvested when temperatures are high, during harvest if wet conditions occur and after harvest if there is insect damage to the stored crop or if moisture levels are high during storage and transportation.
In Africa, aflatoxin contamination of cereals, groundnuts and dried fruits leads to an estimated annual loss to food exporters of 670 million US dollars.
Among the over 110 experts who attended the strategy development workshop were three scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) involved in food safety research as part of the agriculture-associated diseases component of the CGIAR Research Program in Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH).
Benoit Gnonlonfin and Jagger Harvey of the ILRI-Biosciences eastern and central Africa hub are involved in a collaborative project, Capacity and Action for Aflatoxin Reduction in Africa, aimed at establishing a regional mycotoxin analytical platform with state-of-the-art diagnostic technology that will enable better detection and control of aflatoxin contamination in maize in Kenya and Tanzania.
Delia Grace is a veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert and leads of ILRI’s Food Safety and Zoonoses Program as well as the agriculture-associated diseases component of A4NH.
Grace is involved in the project Measuring and mitigating the risk of mycotoxins for poor milk and maize producers and consumers in Kenya (MyDairy), which aims at improving food safety through reducing the risk of mycotoxins within the feed-dairy chain in Kenya.
The key aspects of the MyDairy project are:
- integrated risk and economic assessment of the Kenyan feed-dairy chain;
- investigation of technologies and strategies to reduce mycotoxins risk in the feed-dairy chain; and
- impact assessment of a package of post-harvest strategies for reducing aflatoxins in maize.
Erastus Kang’ethe, a meat and milk expert at the University of Nairobi, who also attended the workshop, is one of the partners in the MyDairy project.