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Tackling the challenges of aflatoxin

Jimoh Babatunde writes on the recent move by AUC to tackle the challenges of aflatoxin as stakeholders gathered in Dakar, Senegal for the 3rd Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA ) Partnership Platform Meeting (PPM) recently.

Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union Commission, Ambassador Josefa Secko, flanked by Senegalese Agriculture Minister, Aminata Ndianye and Minister of Agriculture from Uganda, Kibanzanga Christopher, at the opening of the 3rd PACA partnership platform
Meeting in Dakar, Senegal Tuesday. Pix by Jimoh Babatunde

Over 200 stakeholders from the African Union Commission (AUC), Regional Economic Communities, government officials from ministries of agriculture, trade and health, farmers’ organizations, the private sector, civil society, development partners and donor communities, among others gathered recently in Dakar, Senegal for the 3rd Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA ) Partnership Platform Meeting (PPM).

The meeting with the theme: Scaling-up Country-led Approaches for Sustainable Aflatoxin Mitigation in Africa took a look at the successes and challenges of the country planning process in six pilot countries of Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, The Gambia and Uganda .

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They also tried to identify ways to scale up this approach to other African countries, as well as to establish mechanisms for monitoring progress.

Aflatoxins are natural compounds produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus and related species. They are highly toxic to humans and animals, causing liver disease and cancer.

Chronic exposure to aflatoxins is also associated with stunting and immune system suppression. Aflatoxins affect grain and other food crops – notably, maize and groundnuts.

The toxins can be carried over along the food chain and contaminate animal source foods. Humans and animals get exposed to aflatoxins through ingestion of foods/ feed contaminated by the toxins.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 25% of the food produced worldwide is contaminated with aflatoxins, which is a threat to global food safety as well as food security, as contaminated commodities are expected to be destroyed.

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It is also estimated that Africa cumulatively loses more than US$ 700 million annually in lost exports because major agricultural commodities such as maize, groundnuts and spices produced in the continent contain aflatoxin levels that are unacceptable for the European and other global markets.

Effective aflatoxin management is critical for the achievement of the Malabo Declaration Commitments on eradicating hunger, tripling intra-Africa trade in agricultural commodities and services as well as reducing poverty, and contributing to the realization of Agenda 2063 of the African Union.

At the opening, African Union Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, urged all AU Member States to tackle the impact of Aflatoxins through a strong continental vision supported by robust political will, as well as the establishment of the necessary technical structures and the promotion of coordinated approaches.

Faki emphasized the need for collective action to address the major health risks posed by Aflatoxins in Africa which also impact negatively on the agricultural and trade sectors of the continent.

Aflatoxins are naturally occurring toxins in crops such as maize, sorghum and groundnuts which represent the major staple foods in many African countries. At high levels, aflatoxin poisoning can cause death, illness and the destruction of contaminated crops, which in turn negatively impacts food security in general and the agricultural sector in particular.

He disclosed that Africa loses $700 million to Aflatoxin , which commonly contaminates a wide range of stable food and cash crop in the continent.

Faki said the lost comes as a result of the inability of most crops from the continent affected by aflatoxin to meet international standards.

Aflatoxins are known to cause liver and other chronic health effects as well as death.

He noted that aflatoxins have proved to be a major barrier in linking African farmers to markets, as they prevent commodities from meeting international, regional and local regulations and standards governing agricultural trade and food safety.

” Aflatoxins continue to contribute to large post-harvest losses in many crops further contributing to food insecurity and economic loss in Africa.”

Faki stressed the importance the AU places on agriculture, food security and safety, as evidenced by the adoption of the 2003 Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and the 2014 Malabo Declaration on agriculture.

He noted that the fulfilment of the commitments made in the Malabo Declaration requires sustained action to ensure food safety on the Continent.

He noted the need for heightened awareness and sensitization campaigns about the dangers of Aflatoxins and how to build resilience through innovative coping strategies.

Also, AUC Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, Amb. Josefa Sacko assured the meeting of AUC’s commitment to replicate the PACA Country-led approach in the six pilot countries in mitigating aflatoxins to the rest of the continent.

Also speaking at the opening, the Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union, Ambassador Josefa Sacko, said the transformation of agriculture in the continent is slow as efforts at increasing food are being undermined by food contamination.

Adding that Aflatoxin is a major pervasive food safety challenge facing the Africa continent today.

Sacko noted that the health effect of aflatoxin was felt in Kenya in 2004 and Tanzania in 2017.

“The Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) , a program of the African Union Commission, coordinates efforts at continental and national level in aflatoxin prevention and control.”

She noted that piloting of aflatoxin mitigation approach in Nigeria and five other focus countries has generated a rich experience in evidence generation, national plan development and stakeholder alignment as well as financing and implementation of comprehensive aflatoxin control plans.

“The PACA country planning approach is believed to bring about positive changes in aflatoxin control at country level and drive continental efforts on food safety.

“The Commission has been supporting the pilot countries in developing and implementing a country-led aflatoxin control action plan to address the aflatoxin problem in a coordinated and impactful manner,” she said. “The results have so far been remarkable and we would like to replicate the experience in all the 55 countries of Africa.”

She noted that the hosting of the 3rd PACA partnership platform meeting by Senegal is coming at a critical period when the continent and international community are advocating for increased food safety measures to protect human lives and increase intra-Africa and international trade of agricultural commodities.

The Prime Minister of Senegal, Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne, used the opportunity of the meeting to reiterate the country’s commitment to mitigating aflatoxins and stressed the importance of using different measures including bio-controls such as Aflasafe, a natural biological product that reduces aflatoxin contamination at pre-harvest stage.

Senegal is one of the six pilot countries that the AUC’s PACA Secretariat is working with in Africa. The Prime Minister restated Senegal’s commitment to working with the AUC and also with its farmers and producers to fight the aflatoxin scourge.

A member of the Nigeria delegation to the meeting, Mrs Stella Denloye, said Aflatoxin contamination contributes to pre and post harvest losses in many crops which can directly reduce the availability of food, just as it also prevents commodities from meeting international, regional, local regulations, and standards governing agricultural trade and food safety.

“Contaminated food is effectively lost as it must be destroyed because alternative uses are not readily available. Small-scale farmers are said to be hard hit, since contaminated crops do not meet food safety standards, aflatoxin contamination undermines local purchase programmes by development partners and access to other markets.

“It also hinders investments in seeds, tools and fertilizers, intended to boost agricultural development and trade.”

PACA’s work on aflatoxin control in Nigeria

Data from the European Commission’s Food and Feed Safety Alerts revealed that aflatoxin contaminated produce contributes to the largest percentage of agricultural commodities rejected by the EU. Between 1980 and 2016, a total of 389 Nigerian agricultural export shipments were rejected or seized by the EU, with 39% the rejections attributed to aflatoxin contamination.

This data gives credence to the C-SAAP Report for Nigeria, which established that 51% of groundnut sampled were above the EU limit and 14% were above US limits. Aflatoxin content in 31% of the sampled maize was higher than the EU limit, while 9% of sesame was above the US limit.

Maize is a staple food for about 50% of Nigerians. Groundnut is the most nutritive oilseed used in Nigeria, while sesame is also emerging as an important source of oil and protein. This means a significant number of Nigerians are at risk from aflatoxin contamination by consuming these crops.

The C-SAAP Report estimates that Nigeria would record 2,437 new cases of aflatoxin-induced liver cancer annually, leading to a health cost of about US$ 997 million annually.

PACA has established an office in Nigeria and is providing technical support to the government through a number of national institutions like The Standards Organization of Nigeria; the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control; the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Services; and the Nigerian Institute of Animal Science.

Significant milestones in aflatoxin mitigation in Nigeria

Aflatoxin mitigation efforts have been captured in the Nigeria National Food Policy. In addition, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), working with other development partners, has established a factory in Ibadan, where it is producing a biocontrol product known as Aflasafe®.

IITA has also established the Aflatoxin Technology Transfer Commercialization initiative to make Aflasafe® accessible to farmers, as well as undertaking sensitization efforts among value chain actors.

AflasafeTM reduces aflatoxins during both crop growth and post-harvest storage, as well as throughout the value chain process. The product uses the native non-toxic strains of the fungus that produces aflatoxin to naturally out-compete their aflatoxin-producing cousins. Field-testing of aflasafe™ in Nigeria over the past four years has produced extremely positive results.

Aflatoxin contamination of maize and groundnut was consistently reduced by between 80 and 90%, and even as high as 99%. This increases crop values by at least 5% while addressing this serious food safety issue.

Meanwhile, PACA in collaboration with the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), launched the Africa Food Safety Index, a project that will institutionalize food safety tracking and capacity building in Africa through the Malabo Declaration Biennial Review reporting system.

CTA Director, Dr Michael Hailu announced the collaboration, noting that food safety is one of the pillars of food security.

A dinner and awards ceremony to recognize and award Champions of Change was also held as part of the meeting in collaboration with Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, Sight and Life and Mars Incorporated, includes an award of $15,000 seed fund each for two researchers in Africa.


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