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Maize is a main food product on most African plates , it’s the most grown crop in most of the smallholder farmer’s fields, However, despite the importance Maize can be the avenue for biological insecurity if not well protected from development of aflatoxin.
Scientist at the National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO) , have developed new maize varieties that are resistant to Aspergillus fungus which is the cause of development and low Aflatoxin accumulation.
According to Dr Godfrey Asea, Director at the NARO’s Namulonge Agriculture Crop resources Research institute(NaCRRI), the institute has developed a variety in response to increased aflatoxin outcry. He said the variety is both high yielding and very resistant to the fungus that generates the aflatoxin existence.
“Aflatoxins are deadly toxins produced by fungus in crops such as maize and cassava. In high doses, aflatoxins can lead to serious illness or death in both humans and animals. They have been estimated to cause up to 30% of all liver cancers in the world. Aflatoxins are also said to be a key constraint on improving the health and well-being of African people, especially the rural poor who are chronically exposed to unsafe levels. So we have developed a maize product that is highly able to resist aflatoxins.“ Said Dr Asea
According to Asea , Aflatoxins occur in crops when conditions favor fungal activities, such as at times of high temperatures, high humidity, or insect damage. They affect a wide range of major commodities including groundnuts, maize, sorghum, cassava, yam chips, cottonseed, coffee, and cocoa. Aflatoxins in each of these crops not only cause illness but also contribute to nutritional deficiencies and economic losses.
Julius Serumaga a lead scientists in this research reveals that NARO, inorder to justify the need for research had undertaken a study to understand the occurrence of aflatoxins in African maize. The Preliminary results from a study undertaken to establish the level of aflatoxins in pre-harvested maize indicated that all the samples collected contained variable levels of aflatoxins. At least 10% of the samples had an aflatoxin content that was more than three hundred times the acceptable level. Previous studies have mistakenly assumed that aflatoxin was only a post-harvesting problem. The current study has, however, shown that the problem starts in the field and subsequently becomes more pronounced as a result of unsafe post-harvest handling through, for exmple, the use of unsuitable drying methods and unsafe storage conditions.
„A number of investigations have focussed on reducing the levels of aflatoxins in crops and livestock in order to achieve greater food security and improve health in sub-Saharan Africa. An integrated approach that uses resistant varieties of crops, bio-control agents, and suitable post harvesting handling is likely to increase income and reduce human exposure to this natural poison, thus improving health and saving lives“ adds Serumaga.He adds that Several researches focus on the reduction of aflatoxin levels in crops and livestock to achieve greater food security and improve health in sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore an integrated approach that uses resistant varieties, bio-control agents and proper post harvesting handling is likely to increase income and reduce human exposure to the natural poison, thus improving health and saving lives.
Maize and the Project:
Maize in Africa is most prone to Aflatoxin contamination, making farming risky for millions of smallholder farmers who rely on the crop for food security.
Maize is the most widely grown staple crop in Africa more than 300 million Africans depend on it as their main food source and it is severely affected by frequent high levels of Aflatoxins which are prevalent during heavy rains and also during post harvesting handling.
Aflatoxins are known to be toxic hence leads to cancers development in both human and animals. This can have a negative impact on health and also economic trade. Aflatoxin contamination has been recognized as one of the most important targets of crop improvement programs, Bio-control and biotechnology have been identified as a powerful tool to achieve significant reduction in aflatoxin accumulation by many National and international Food and Agriculture Organization.
Worrying levels of aflatoxins established in pre-harvested Maize Provisional results from a study undertaken to establish the level of aflatoxins in pre-harvested maize indicate that all the samples collected had varying levels aflatoxins. At least 10% of the samples had over 3000 ppb of aflatoxin content which is above the acceptable level of 10ppbs. According to research, in high doses, aflatoxins can lead to serious illness or death in humans and animals. It is estimated that it causes between 5% and 30% of all liver cancer in the world. It is also said to be a key constraint to improving the health and well-being of African people especially the rural poor who are chronically exposed to unsafe levels.
Samples were collected from 21 districts across Uganda. These included; Hoima, Masindi Kyenjojo, Fortportal, Wakiso, Luwero, Kiryandongo, Mityana, Hoima, Mubende, Lira Gulu, Oyam, Iganga, Bugiri, Kumi, Pallisa, Soroti, bulegeni, sironko, kapchorwa, Kasese, Kabale and bundibujo. A total of 250 hundred samples were selected from all the district.
Current reports indicate that aflatoxins contribute to nutritional and economic losses in major commodities including groundnuts, maize, sorghum, cassava, yam chips, cotton seeds, coffee, cocoa, and therefore contributing to a significant public health burden in developing countries. The research seeks to contribute to efforts towards the management and reduction of the effect of aflatoxin levels in crops and livestock to achieve greater food security and improve health in sub-Saharan Africa where contamination is widespread and often acute. This is likely to enhance income and reduce human exposure to the natural poison thus improving health. The project:
The research on Aflatoxin control is under a research project called Aflatoxin policy and Program for the East Africa Region (APPEAR). which is geared towards developing a bio – control product for aflatoxins in maize and groundnuts. The project is funded by United States Agency on International Development (USAID) under feed the future program through International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Cereals Program at NaCRRI focuses on three key intervention areas to combat Aflatoxins: (i) breeding for resistance (2) Bio-control approach and (iii) Use of bio-technology to combat the effects of aflatoxin.
Other Possibilities:VARIOUS FUNGI PRODUCE METABOLITES toxic to humans and animals. Aspergillus flavus, a common mould on grains, produces aflatoxin,, which can be fatal if ingested. A group of scientists, in collaboration with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), has now identified related A.flavus strains that don’t produce toxins and prevent invasion by their toxigenic relatives, reducing aflatoxin levels by as much as 99%.Humans and poultry are among the species most sensitive to aflatoxin. In humans, especially children, it tends to stunt growth and aggravate immunological deficiencies. It’s linked to liver disorders and the Hepatitis B virus, which causes cancer. In Kenya in 2005, contaminated maize killed more than 200 people, half of them school children. South Africa’s prescribed maximum level of aflatoxin in food is 10 parts per billion (ppb) and 15ppb for groundnuts for processing. The EU level is 4partsper billion.
Article written by Grace Musimami