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Farmers Want Equipment To Curb Aflatoxins

by Harvest Money Editor
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Simon Onadra has been a commercial maize farmer for more than 10 years.

He says he has ‘mastered’ the art of dealing with different challenges that come with the business. Currently, having maize on about 100 acres, Onadra, says fighting aflatoxins pushes him to go the extra mile.

Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi that are found on agricultural crops, such as maize, peanuts, cottonseed and tree nuts.

The main fungi that produce aflatoxins are ‘Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus’ which are abundant in warm and humid regions. In maize, aflatoxins can be identified through moulds that usually form on grains.

Onadra says harvesting maize and packing it before it dries makes it develop moulds.

“I have a crib. I give my maize time to dry from the garden and when I harvest, I keep them there for about two to three months, before shelling them from the maize cob,” Onadra, who resides in Kyangamwoyo village in Pakanyi sub-county, about 20km from Masindi town, says.

“When in the store, I ensure that it is well aerated. I clean the maize thoroughly, to rid it of any impurities, place them on a pallet and then fumigate,” he states.

However, Onadra says the current weather conditions are not favourable because rains are unpredictable.

Need for equipment

“We need storage facilities with dryers because most people are now harvesting raw maize. We request the Government to put a fully-equipped warehouse, at least in every sub-county, where commercial farmers are,” he says.

Moses Andama, a maize farmer in Kabukye, Kiryandongo district, says few farmers are aware of what aflatoxins are, hence calling for mass sensitisation and equipment to train farmers on what quality measures to uphold.

However, Melekizedeki Kanaginagi, a commercial maize farmer at Bokwe village in Labongo sub-county, says poor post-harvest handling is the main cause of aflatoxin infestation.

“If one is to go commercial in farming, a lot of effort must be put in to ensure they meet all the standards required for quality products, which can capture the national and international market. Therefore, people must work hard and meet the expenses,” Kanaginagi says.

He advised farmers who cannot afford cribs to opt for locally-made granaries, which are well aerated to keep maize in a good condition.

Why it matters

The Agriculture and Food Authority of Kenya on March 5 last year, banned the importation of maize from Uganda and Tanzania over safety standards, among which was the allegation that the grain had high levels of aflatoxins.

Therefore, managing the aflatoxin levels in grain produce will go a long way in ensuring that the country’s grain gets market beyond the borders.

Current efforts by government

Dr Fred Ssebuguzi, the Masindi District Production Officer, said sensitisation among farmers by extension workers is ongoing.

“The Government cannot put storage facilities everywhere. However, we implore farmers to work in groups and form co-operatives which will help them access some services, which might be hard for an individual,” Ssebuguzi says.

Testing for aflatoxins

Priscilla Kahunde, a worker with My[1]Coveria Scientific, a company based in Kampala that supplies laboratory equipment to test aflatoxins, says it is expensive to access services if a farmer is dealing alone.

“We usually supply to co-operative societies or groups of farmers. However, we are now planning to look into the Parish Development Model and plan a way forward with the trade ministry to see if we can set up hubs in different places that can easily be accessed by individuals,” Kahunde says.

She adds that when testing for aflatoxins in grains, a group of farmers is charged sh28,000 for every sample while an individual would have to spend about sh250,000 for the same.

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