Finally, there is a solution to one of the grain farmers’ worst nightmares. It is going to largely put a check on what has been threatening Kenya’s main staple for years, even leading to deaths.
Aflatoxin, a highly carcinogenic toxin produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus, ravages maize in stores and shambas, causing untold losses to farmers in income and grain. And it is not only the grain farmers, who have been a worried lot.
Livestock farmers, too, and the general public have had their fair share of scares. Aflatoxin not only infects maize and other cereals, but also permeates livestock and poultry feeds, affecting milk, meat and eggs.
However, there is now some good news. Aflatoxin has met its match, Aflasafe KE01TM, a product capable of reducing contamination by 70 to more than 90 per cent.
According to available statistics, 266 people died due to aflatoxin poisoning between 2003 and 2010, and 31,000 bags of maize were condemned in Mbeere District and 1,213 bags in Bura, Tana River.
“In 2010 due to global weather change, about 2.3 million bags of maize were found to be contaminated with aflatoxins,” said Mr P.N Nyaga, head of Plant Protection Services, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.
He was speaking during the launch Aflasafe at the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), Loresho, Nairobi recently.
In 2009, 117 tonnes of maize worth about $37,375 were rejected by the WFP in 2009 in Bura, while in 2016, some 21 out of 65 samples collected from the eastern region had aflatoxin levels above the required 10ppb (10 parts per billion). Dr Eliud Kireger, the director-general of Kalro, said: “Aflatoxin poisoning in the East African region has become an epidemic, particularly in the arid and semi-arid areas.” “Chronic aflatoxin exposure has been associated with liver cancer, growth retardation and stunting in children, and suppression of the immune system,” he added.
High levels aflatoxin exposure can cause haemorrhaging, and even immediate death. Dr Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, leader, Africa-wide Aflasafe Initiative, IITA, said: “Liver cancer is increasing in Africa and 30 per cent of this is attributed to aflatoxin, which is a suppressor of immunity. In livestock the fungus is causing a decline in production.” He was speaking during a media briefing at Kalro Katumani in Machakos County.
Aflatoxin is not a postharvest problem only; it grows before and after harvesting, especially under high humidity and warm weather conditions.
“A little time before flowering fungal spores, which subsist in the soil, move up the plant either by wind, or insects up to the grains and infect them. By the time the crop is harvested, it is already contaminated and this increases during storage,” Dr Bandyopadhyay said.
“Aflatoxin spores are everywhere, even now we are breathing them. The fungus is acute in Kenya and right now we are standing at the hotspot. Many people have died.” Foods at high risk of infection, includes maize, wheat, rice, nuts, cassava and pulses.
For almost 40 years, researchers have worked hard to find a solution and finally, Aflasafe KE01TM is available. And this product, which widely used in the USA, has nothing to do with chemicals!
“We have got help from nature to produce a biocontrol product capable of reducing the menace by more than 90 per cent,” Dr Bandyopadhyay said. In the US, it has had success rates of up to 98 per cent.
“About a million acres of crops are treated with the bio-control product,” he said.
“The product is easy to use. One person can apply it to one hectare of land per day.”