Sunday, April 24, 2016

FARA to create platform to tackle aflatoxin



By Edmund Smith-Asante, ACCRA
Dr Nelson Ojijo (right) being interviewed

The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) is to create an innovative platform for farmers in the country to tackle the problem of aflatoxin, a fungi that infects harvested cereals.

FARA is also collaborating with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) and its development partners to find effective means of dealing with the fungi, which contributes to post-harvest losses and also affects the health of humans.

These were disclosed by Dr Nelson Ojijo, a Research Scientist at FARA and a steering committee member of the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA), on the sidelines of an agriculture development programme in Accra.

In an exclusive interview with the Daily Graphic, Dr Ojijo said “right now the platform has been initiated but we want the farmers to drive it.” 

He indicated that FARA would provide seed money for the programme because of its serious repercussions on Africa’s agricultural growth.

If the farmers lack drying conditions after harvest, they have to be provided with artificial dryers to ensure that the grains are dried and have the required moisture content before they leave the field, Dr Ojijo recommended.  

Support
He said organisations such as Nestle, which used cereals to manufacture their products, were also worried about the incidence of aflatoxin in the produce they bought from farmers. 
“So they are very ready to give support to any initiative that is aimed at addressing aflatoxin. But it is an engagement that is ongoing and I believe we shall have good results for the Ghanaian farmer,” he stated.

What is aflatoxin?
A species of soil fungi known as Aspergillus produce aflatoxin, which are poisons that affect grains after harvest and thrive in very humid or poor storage conditions as well as drought-prone areas.

Dangers 
Dr Ojijo said apart from accounting for an average of 40 per cent of the post-harvest losses experienced by African farmers, the fungi was also injurious to human health.

“If you eat small quantities of it for a continuous time, it can have some effects on your body. And if you eat large quantities of it, it can even kill you instantly,” he stated.

“Eating chronic levels of aflatoxin is injurious to health. It can cause stunting in children. If pregnant women eat aflatoxin in contaminated groundnuts or even maize products, it can even affect their wombs. Stunting is a serious issue because it affects the mental capacity of the child,” Dr Ojijo added. 

He further claimed that, “It can also cause cancer so it is an important public health significance. We believe that Africa is food-insecure partly because of the food that is lost post-harvest.” 

Background
According to Dr Ojijo, the incidence of aflatoxin first became critical in Africa from 2003 to 2004 when some communities in Eastern Kenya harvested maize that became heavily contaminated with the aflatoxin. 

However because the people did not have anything else to eat, they were compelled to consume the contaminated grains, leading to the death of hundreds of people. This sparked a lot of interest in the study of aflatoxin on the continent.

Dr Ojijo stated that, “the issue of aflatoxin is so important such that the African Union Commission (AUC) has set up a continental programme called ‘Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa.’ 

Writer’s email: edmund.asante@graphic.com.gh 

This story was first published by the Daily Graphic on April 23, 2016

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