Researchers get grants to find solution to aflatoxin

Thursday March 21 2019

A woman scavenging outside a National Cereals and Produce Board store in June, 2017.

A woman scavenging outside a National Cereals and Produce Board store in Kabarnet, Kenya on June 13, 2017. Poor drying has been cited as a major cause of aflatoxin contamination. PHOTO FILE | NMG 

EVELYN LIRRI
By EVELYN LIRRI
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Researchers from three universities in Africa have secured funds from African Union Research Grants Programme to conduct studies on how to fight aflatoxin in maize, manage diseases in fish and improve the breed of ingenious chicken.

This, according to the project, will fight food insecurity on the continent, which has been attributed to lack of sustainable control of diseases.

The universities — Makerere in Uganda, University of Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique and the University of Zambia—are leading the project.

“One of the key development challenges in Africa is food insecurity and nutrition, coupled with poverty. To respond to this, we need research that will help us generate innovations,” said Prof Ekwamu Adipala, executive director of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture.

Key problem

Prof Adipala noted that aflatoxin, which is a key problem the research will address, has contributed to reduction in the market value of Africa’s food stuff.

Aflatoxins are highly toxic and found in grains such as maize, ground nuts, sorghum and wheat. Exposure to them can lead to stunting and immune system suppression.

“There is a knowledge gap in developing countries due to inadequate resources and insufficient capacity for aflatoxin analyses. Therefore, we want to determine the prevalence of aflatoxin in maize and value chain in East and Southern Africa,” said Dr Alice Mweetwa, from the University of Zambia and principal researcher of the project.

Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that Africa loses about $700 million annually because most agricultural commodities such as maize and ground nuts are contaminated with aflatoxins, and therefore don’t access markets in Europe and America.

“We hope to come up with measures to mitigate the impact of aflatoxin contamination, which countries on the continent can then adopt,” noted Dr Mweetwa.

Indigenous chicken

The researchers will also study how the continent’s indigenous chicken can be improved through what they termed as marker-assisted breeding.

The researchers aim to come up with ways of increasing the chicken size and weight, quantity of eggs that they lay, broodiness and also improve their general health.

“If we can increase the quantity and quality of indigenous African chicken products, it will result in better income and nutrition for farmers,” said Prof Filomena Anjos, from Eduardo Mondlane University, Mozambique, who will lead the project. The study will be undertaken in Uganda and Mozambique.

Ms Anjos noted that with the current poor quality of indigenous chicken, many farmers have opted for exotic breeds, which are expensive for many rural poor farmers.

She noted that indigenous chicken lay only 20 to 40 eggs a year, while cocks weigh between 1.5 and 2.0 kilogrammes at 12 months.

“The advantage of improving the indigenous chicken is that, it provides protein and micronutrients to majority of the population and does not require special management. Low investment is needed in terms of pest and disease control, which makes it ideal for many rural people across the continent,” she said.