- Kalro director general, Dr Eliud Kireger said the economic significance of aflatoxins mainly on maize grains therefore cannot be over-emphasised.
- He said because of climate change and temperatures increasing, the incidence of aflatoxin contamination was in hotspots areas of semi-arid areas.
The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation has warned Kenyans against consuming livestock, and chicken from animals fed with contaminated maize.
Kalro director general, Dr Eliud Kireger told the Star on Tuesday that contaminated maize that is given to livestock passes over residual effects to humans.
“The residual effects are passed on to humans through the consumption of related products including milk, eggs and meat,” he said.
Kireger said the economic significance of aflatoxins mainly on maize grains therefore cannot be over-emphasised.
He said because of climate change and temperatures increasing, the incidence of aflatoxin contamination was in hotspots areas of semi-arid areas.
The areas are Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Kajiado, Makueni, Kilifi and Taita Taveta where temperatures are above 25 degrees Celsius and are now being found in Trans Nzoia and Bungoma which are not traditionally areas known to have aflatoxin.
He said it was sad that some farmers failed to adopt the use of aflasafe, a biological control of aflatoxin in cereals, as they saw no added value in terms of money when they use it, yet no one should compromise on their health.
“We all need to work on this and the government can also assist in carrying out the message even if it’s to subsidize the aflasafe which currently is retailing at Sh400 per 2kg bag just like it is doing for subsidized fertilizer for more uptake,” he said.
He said aflatoxin is a fungal toxin that commonly contaminates maize and other types of crops during production, harvest, storage or processing.
In Kenya, acute aflatoxin poisoning results in liver failure and death in up to 40 per cent of cases.
In May 2006, an outbreak of acute aflatoxicosis was reported in the Makueni, Tharakanithi and Machakos regions of Kenya where aflatoxin contamination of homegrown maize was a recurrent problem.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention teams worked with the Ministry of Health to trial a rapid, portable aflatoxin screening tool that could be used in the field to identify contaminated maize and guide urgent maize replacement efforts during an outbreak.
To do this, they used a portable lateral flow immunoassay; a test validated for use in commercial silo laboratories and modified the methods for use in rural Kenya without electricity or refrigeration.
Kereger, however, said they were trying to work on a cheaper way of testing for aflatoxin so that farmers or even buyers could instantly know if the maize is contaminated.
They also want to put up a centre of excellence for the training of not only aflatoxins but also other related post-harvest losses and management technologies
Last week, Prof Jake Ricker Gilbert, Principal Investigator for the Food Processing and Post-harvest Handling project, said the research done led to action to provide new technologies to produce the post-harvest loss and also do an extension to train farmers, traders and consumers about the best practices as well as also scaling the uptake.
“Some of the technologies that we worked on are good quality food grade taps for drying grain so that it does not come into contact with soil and get fungus, worked on low-cost moisture assessment that farmers can test their maize to see if it is safe, but we also have an integrated strategy to try and produce post-harvest loss through the use of hermetic bags,” he said.
Gilbert, however, acknowledged that although the technologies have benefits to the farmers, for most of them, it has been hard to adopt and also invest in them.
“According to the research, the market demand is low as only 9 per cent are willing to pay at or above market price, while 33 per cent want the prices to be lowered to Sh250. The benefits of using aflasafe were also not directly observable to farmers,” he said.
He said investing in training to increase awareness and help farmers understand the benefits of using aflasafe to improve household food safety, especially for those who produce maize was key.
Koppert Biological Systems limited general manager Charles Macharia that has been helping in distributing the aflasafe to farmers said they have trained around 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 chains such as processors of sorghum and groundnuts who have been influencing their farmers to adopt aflasafe,” he said.
Macharia gave an example of a sorghum project that has seen them working with over 100,000 farmers every year on taking up the adoption of the aflasafe unlike in maize.
Roasted, sterile sorghum grains usually serve as carriers and nutritive sources for the toxigenic strains.
“The last two years in the price of inputs have gone up, especially in the nutrition fertilizer and because of this if farmers feel that they are squeezed, investing in products such as aflasafe will further be pushed down as they would prefer investing in nutrition fertilizer,” he said.
Macharia said when they started on the distribution in 2020, they achieved over 95 per cent of the target in terms of supply, but the biggest challenge has been to sustain and maintain the same especially with now failed rains and farmers feeling the cost of inputs.
The whole project was done in partnership with Kalro, Purdue University, USAID, the University of Eldoret and other development partners.
Kireger said the country has stepped up research to develop technologies that could mitigate the effects of aflatoxin in the agricultural sector.
The Kalro director general called on the stakeholders, especially in the maize value chain to ensure they talked to farmers more about the use of aflasafe which affects the health of people once it is contaminated.