As the country continues to battle the effects of aflatoxins on food items for both trade and domestic consumption, the National Agriculture Research Organization (NARO) has identified more than 12 biological control methods for aflatoxins.
According to the Director General of NARO, Dr Ambrose Agona, they looked at the aspergillus flavours, related to one that produces toxins in cereals like maize, to get a natural enemy that can be applied at the pre-harvest stage.
He explained that the antigen can be detected between 7 to 14 days before other diagnostic clues become apparent.
Agona, however, added that the production of these controls depends on how fast the facility that will process them is built.
Currently, the facility is nearing completion, according to additional information from the National Livestock Research Institute in Nakyesasa, where construction is taking place.
“We believe that when the facility is ready, we shall produce enough of the spores that can contain aflatoxins in our environment, ” said Agona.
What are aflatoxins?
Prof Kaaya from Makerere university’s Food Science and Technology department and the lead researcher on aflatoxins said that Uganda should be concerned mainly about the moulds which contaminate foods during pre and post-harvest.
Other worrying factors, according to Kaaya include bacteria and viruses.
He adds that the moulds affect the quality of the two main categories of crops produced in Uganda, which include fresh produce like fruits and vegetables, primary processed crops on the farm like cereals, legumes, oil seeds, cassava etc and then secondary processing, where products are developed from food like maize flour from the maize grain.
“When these attack the produce, they can spoil food by changing colour, taste, and smell among others. It can cause poison, and the chemicals produced by the moulds, also known as toxins, can harm the consumer’s vital organs like the kidney among others,” he added.
He further explained that Aflatoxins are produced by a fungus called Aspergillus flavus found in moulds. They are not visible, nor do they smell and are hard to eliminate.
Even cooking and roasting at normal temperatures will not affect the dangerous toxins.
These thrive in moist conditions, humidity, temperature, gaseous composition, presence of food, drying crops on soil and allowing insect or rodent infestation.
He adds that the effects are both healthy and economical. In health, these cause acute and chronic toxicity which usually results in death, liver cancer, immune system suppression and has also been linked to stunting.
Economically, the Food and Agriculture Organization ( FAO) estimates that each year, Africa loses close to USD 670m due to aflatoxins, other costs include costs of impounding, costs of disposing of contaminated grain/food, regulatory and inspection costs, costs of labour beside the 40% of daily disease burden in Africa due to aflatoxins among others.
Economic losses to Uganda, a few years back 600,000 MT of grain was rejected by Kenya’s National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) and The Uganda Grain Council (TGCU ) due to high levels of Aflatoxins. That translated into a loss of sh180b.