KAMPALA — The East African Grain Council (EAGC) and the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), have embarked on a campaign to fight against the high Aflatoxin levels in food stuffs, to promote consumption of safe food in the country and the region.
During a one-day training held in the Kisenyi grain trading hub, the EAGC told traders that poor storage of food causes contamination with aflatoxins.
Aflatoxins result from moulding on grain caused by poor storage of foodstuffs in warm and humid conditions, and to a lesser extent, planting of affected seeds.
It is a type of mycotoxin produced by Aspergillus species of fungi, such as A. flavus and A. parasiticus.
The umbrella term aflatoxin refers to four different types of mycotoxins produced, which are B1, B2, G1, and G2.
Aflatoxin B1, the most toxic, is a potent carcinogen and has been directly correlated to adverse health effects, such as liver cancer in many animal species.
High levels of Aflatoxins contaminate food crops like cereals, legumes, oil crops and others, posing a serious health threat to humans and livestock.
Besides health, EAGC team leader Mr. Paul Ochuna said high Aflatoxin, levels are a major barrier to the exportation of Uganda’s agricultural produce to the East African Region and internationally.
Internationally, he added that Aflatoxins pose a significant economic burden, which according to World Health Organization (WHO) 2018 report, causes an estimated 25% or more of the world’s food crop loss, consequently contributing to hunger.
To this end, he told reporters that the campaign aims at creating awareness about aflatoxin and train all stakeholders in the value chains, right from the farm to the final consumer, on how to handle food to avoid Aflatoxin contamination.
Poorly managed storage and aggregation systems as well as inefficient post-harvest handling practices are a major challenge to smallholders looking to penetrate new markets, ” Ochuna said, adding that addressing quality challenges is a major priority for the council at the moment.
UNBS has called on farmers and traders to adopt good agricultural practices that ensure the right moisture content in food to eliminate high Aflatoxin levels.
The regulator has also urged traders and manufacturers to acquire and adhere to the relevant UNBS quality standards and ensure that all the manufacturing processes meet the quality standards.
A recent study showed that aflatoxin contamination reduces economic growth by 0.26 percent due to deterioration in productivity as a proportion of the labour force gets sick with aflatoxin-related diseases.
Firms that are labour intensive reduce their demand for labour whereas those that are capital intensive like the manufacturing sector increase their employment of labour so as to compensate for the reduced efficiency (productivity) per unit of labour.
In other words, the output produced by labour per hour or day reduces as a result of time lost while seeking medication and taking care of the sick relatives.
Total exports deteriorate by US$ 37.56 million of which agricultural exports fall by US$ 16.34 million.
Grain exports reduce by US$ 7.48 million which is approximately 45% of the reduction in total agricultural exports.
Household disposable incomes fall by 0.33 percent (US$ 79.3 million) and the respective household consumption deteriorate by US$ 59.1 million.
However, consumption of grains increases by US$ 2.3 million, largely due to the fall in price and excess supply of grains resulting from the rejection of aflatoxin contaminated grains in the export market.
Total trade deteriorates except for the sales of the health products that increase by US$ 1.83 million during the simulation period.
Household consumption for domestic health commodities increase by 0.25 percent and the consumption of imported health commodities increase by 2.83 percent.
Mr. David Mutazindwa, the Director and the EAGC Regional Vice President said the negative impacts of aflatoxin contamination increase through time, and these manifest through: increasing aflatoxin exposure, liver cancer and HBV prevalence, surging economic productivity, increasing medical bills in the household consumption basket, and triggering a fall in exports emanating from a continuous deterioration of competitiveness within EAC community member states and the rest of the world.