- There have been incidences of aflatoxin contamination reported in the maize growing areas of Trans Nzoia and Bungoma counties.
- Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organization (KALRO) director general Dr Eliud Kireger said this is due to climate change and the rising temperatures.
Aflatoxin incidents are being reported in breadbasket areas due to climate change, the country's agricultural research agency has said.
There have been cases of aflatoxin contamination reported in the maize growing areas of Trans Nzoia and Bungoma.
Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organization director general Dr Eliud Kireger said this is due to climate change and the rising temperatures.
He explained that aflatoxin is poison produced by a fungus that resides in the soil and infects crops in the field with the most susceptible crops being maize and groundnuts.
Kenya is one of the world’s hotspot areas of aflatoxin contamination. Data from the government shows that close to 200 people have died due to consumption of aflatoxin contaminated food in the years 2004 and 2010.
Kireger said, “The hotspots of aflatoxin are in the semi-arid areas, anywhere where the temperature is above 25 degrees Celsius, and that they have been able to map out these hotspots areas.”
He spoke during a meeting with different stakeholders in the maize value chain to be able to sensitise farmers on the importance of using aflasafe to reduce aflatoxin contamination.
Some of the hotspots of aflatoxin are Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Embu, Machakos, Kitui, Makueni, Kilifi, Kwale, Taita Taveta and Kajiado.
“But due to climate change and the increase in temperatures, we are beginning to see incidences of aflatoxin contamination in areas like Trans Nzoia and Bungoma which are not traditionally known for aflatoxin contamination,” the DG said.
“We are concerned as these are breadbasket areas,” he said.
He said KALRO in collaboration with development partners have developed Aflasafe KE01 which is a biological control agent that suppresses aflatoxin producing fungi in the soil.
“Farmers are not adopting the use of aflasafe because they are not seeing any added value in terms of money. But you cannot put value to your health,” Kireger said.
He urged the government to subsidise aflasafe as they are doing with the fertiliser subsidy to encourage farmers to use the product. A 2kg bag of aflasafe is retailing at Sh400.
“When you contaminate the soil, you are likely to lose the crop which translates to money. If the government can subsidise at least 50 per cent of the price, maybe this would encourage farmers to use the product,” Kireger said.
He said the government has prioritised maize among other cereals as the main crop for food security. This is because it is the staple food crop in this country and is critical for improving livelihoods.
“The economic significance of aflatoxins mainly on maize grains therefore cannot be over-emphasized. Its effects on health which includes death due to acute poisoning, chronic illness leading to loss of livelihoods as a result of human deaths, increased health expenses incurred while treating related chronic illnesses such as cancer and opportunistic diseases due to compromised immunity, are immeasurable,” Kireger said.
He added that losses to farmers, traders and the government through condemned maize grains, decreased animal production, the cost of decontamination and disposal of contaminated produce are unacceptably high.
“Aflatoxin contamination also acts as a nontariff barrier to local, regional and international trade,” he said.
Prof Jake Ricker Gilbert the Principal Investigator for the Food Processing and Post-Harvest Handling (FPIL) project, said there is low uptake by farmers of the aflasafe technology which could help reduce post-harvest losses.
“According to the research we carried out, the benefits of using aflasafe were also not directly observable to farmers. The market demand of the product is low as only nine per cent are willing to pay at or above market price, while 33 per cent want the prices to be allowed to Sh250,” he said.
He said there is a need to invest in training to increase the awareness and help farmers understand the benefits of using Aflasafe. This he noted will improve household food safety especially for maize producers.
Charles Macharia, general manager of Koppert Biological Systems Limited that has been helping in distributing the aflasafe to farmers, said they have trained over 50,000 farmers since 2020 on adoption and usage.
“We used to use agro dealers as distribution channels. But over time we have found that it is easier to work with structured value chain players such as sorghum and groundnuts processors who have been influencing their farmers to adopt aflasafe,” Macharia said.
-Edited by SKanyara