Feature: Kenya scales up efforts to achieve food security

Source: Xinhua| 2021-01-14 22:44:23|Editor: huaxia

NAIROBI, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- In Silvester Ndanu's expansive farmland hidden 65 km away from Kenya's capital, Nairobi, chickens peck on dirt while his tethered dairy cows graze unbothered.

Further down his sloped land, his farmhand tends to his thriving maize field.

A combination of optimal rainfall and improved methods of farming is promising Ndanu an abundant harvest.

However, this has not always been the case as he has suffered numerous losses due to aflatoxin contamination.

"A few years ago I harvested 17 bags of maize and out of this nearly nine bags were rejected after testing positive for high levels of aflatoxins. I was puzzled as the maize lacked visible indications of being contaminated," said Ndanu.

In Kenya, food contamination has been identified as one of the leading contributors to food insecurity; retrogressive farming techniques, improper storage, transportation, and processing of farm outputs are some of the factors exposing foods to mycotoxins (harmful molds/fungi).

In efforts aimed at addressing food contamination in the country, five new aflatoxin testing labs were commissioned in December last year by the state-run National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), pushing the board's total number of laboratories to six.

The labs have been set up in Machakos, Kitale, Nakuru, Meru, and Eldoret counties.

The new facilities are expected to help farmers and other value chain players to detect contaminated produce and in turn, influence better pre and post-harvest methods of handling food.

"The soil in this region has been categorized as one that is susceptible to attacks by poisonous mold hence the boards resolve to open a testing facility here. Also, this county produces a considerable amount of maize," said Abed Sangolo, depot manager, NCPB, Machakos.

"In the past, the challenge of proximity discouraged farmers from taking their samples to be tested. The board's only known laboratory was in the capital. We are anticipating a big turnout in the upcoming harvest season," Sangolo told Xinhua on Wednesday.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), aflatoxins are one of the most poisonous mycotoxins (molds and fungi) to humans.

They are produced by Aspergillus Flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus which grow in soil attacking cereals, oilseeds, spices, and tree nuts.

WHO notes there is significant health implication of ingesting aflatoxin including developing cancerous cells.

Ndanu, the devoted farmer in Machakos in eastern Kenya, has since been deploying Aflasafe to his soil to arrest molds in addition to acquiring special bags for storing his maize.

The most agreeable solution globally in tackling aflatoxins has been the use of Aflasafe, a natural biocontrol product that minimizes the prevalence of aflatoxins in soil.

Abed said the product has received a positive reception among farmers with numerous purchases being made. A single one-kilogram packet retails for 460 shillings (4.18 U.S. dollars).

Maize is Kenya's staple food with millions dependent on its nutritional benefits. It is for this reason that the safety of this cereal is crucial.

In 2004 local media reported the worst aflatoxin poison outbreak where at least more than 300 people from different counties were affected.

According to Peter Mutuku, managing director of Sorela Scientific Ltd, a company that offers mycotoxin solutions across East Africa, the permitted levels of aflatoxins in cereals is 10 parts per billion (ppb) across East Africa.

Mutuku adds that the country's preferred method of aflatoxin testing which is the ELISA (enzyme-linked immunoassay) platform has proven effective in detecting mycotoxins contamination.

Another farmer, Moses Kiptoo Sirikwa from Eldoret, one of Kenya's rich food-producing regions, told Xinhua via phone that aggressive sensitization still needs to be created around aflatoxin.

"Some rural dwellers are yet to adopt progressive methods of storage and harvesting because they are not aware of the benefits, subsequently, they end incurring huge losses when their maize starts molding while in storage waiting to be sold," said Sirikwa.

"I appeal to the government to develop a mechanism of dealing with confirmed contaminated grains so that it does not end up as animal feed as that is equally dangerous to humans as it is to animals," said Sirikwa. Enditem