Disputes and trade losses traced to aflatoxin could soon be a thing of the past should East African Community partner states adopt a planned uniform and faster method of testing for the toxins in grain and cereals.
Experts meeting in Kampala now propose adoption and use of the “AgraQuant Elisa Mycotoxin Test Kits” on border points across East African border points.
The plan if implemented is expected to reduce trade disputes between EAC partner states such as one that occurred in mid-2022, when Kenya’s Agriculture and Food Authority said maize from the two countries (Tanzania and Uganda) revealed high levels of mycotoxins “that are consistently beyond safety limits of 10 parts per billion” sparking off a fresh trade war between the three founding EAC partner states.
Speaking at the “Strategic Engagement Workshop on Aflatoxin Prevention and Control” in Kampala on behalf of the East African Grain Council, Trade Policy, Research and Advocacy Manager Kimwaga Mhando said aflatoxin suppresses intra-regional trade in grains.
“Uganda and Tanzania lose approximately $16 million and $5.3 million, respectively, due to the reduced value of agricultural exports resulting from aflatoxin contamination,” said Mr Mhando.
“There are high levels of grain rejection by off-takers in the region. Kenyan millers on average rejected 19 percent of maize deliveries to their factories in 2015. Rejections by millers are as high as 60 percent on some occasions,” he said.
It is estimated that agricultural commodities account for about 65 percent of intra-regional trade in the EAC.
According to Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa, the continent loses $670 million in rejected export trade annually due to aflatoxin contamination.
“Aflatoxin reduces the food available (in terms of calorific value) by 18 percent, 15 percent and 11 percent in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, respectively, creating a food security gap,” said Mhando.
Defined as a family of toxins produced by certain fungi that are found on agricultural crops such as maize and ground nuts, aflatoxin can contaminate crops in the field, at harvest, and during storage.
The workshop, which drew participants from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Africa and the DRC, and chaired by Dr Marie Chantel Niyuhire of Burundi Agricultural Research Institute, decried the low adoption of technologies such as Aflasafe in the region for aflatoxin prevention and control and proposed the use of the kits for better control options.
“The kits are rapid, quantitative enzyme linked ‘immunoserbert assays’ (Elisa) that deliver results within 30 minutes when used to analyse for mycotoxins in grains, nuts, cereals and other commodities animal feeds,” said Dr Douglas Choto, Romer Labs, South Africa, who introduced the participants to the AgraQuant Mycotoxin tests kits.
Dr David Githanga of the Department of Paediatrics in the University of Nairobi said that long-term exposure to aflatoxin increases the risk of liver cancer and hepatitis B.
“Aflatoxins and hepatitis B have a synergetic effect on the development of liver cancer," said Dr Githanga in his presentation to the participants.
In an interview with The EastAfrican, David Wafula, agricultural specialist at the EAC secretariat said the EAC Council of ministers prioritised aflatoxin prevention and control because of the threat it poses to the EAC integration goals.
“We will hold another stakeholder workshop in Nairobi mid-November 2023 to deliberate further the policy recommendations by the EAC on its control,” he said.