North-Rift county officers trained on prevention of aflatoxin contamination
With the current maize harvesting activities and the ongoing heavy rainfall in the grain basket counties, the risk of aflatoxin contamination and exposure to the population is now real than ever before. Prevention measures must be taken now as a matter of priority.
Fifty three (53) officers from the Ministries of Health and Agriculture in Nandi, Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia counties assembled in Kapsabet town for the training on prevention of Aflatoxin contamination and poisoning.
The training was conducted under the collaboration between the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) together with the national and county governments through the Ministries of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries and the Ministry of Health.
The training targeted the North Rift counties that make up the country’s grain basket, with most of Kenya’s leading staple grain, maize, originating from the region. Harvesting and storing of maize produce is currently ongoing in these areas of Nandi, Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia, at a time the region is experiencing a period of high rainfall.
One of the key component of the training is to equip the technical officers from both agriculture and public health departments with the relevant skills for identifying predisposing factors of aflatoxin contamination, signs of contamination, effects of human poisoning and appropriate prevention strategies for aflatoxin contamination. In addition, the officers were trained on the sampling and testing of aflatoxin contamination to enable the counties to conduct periodic monitoring, surveillance and detection. The training is very timely as farmers are harvesting and storing their produce during a wet season, which exposes the harvested contamination threat, if appropriate prevention measures are not applied.
The training was officially opened by the County Executive Committee (CEC) Member of Trans Nzoia county Hon. Isaaac Kogo, together with the Chief Officer of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Nandi county, Mr. Willie Too.
Aflatoxins are a group of naturally occurring mycotoxins or toxic substances produced by a fungus. The toxins mainly accumulate on crops and grains in the tropical regions and most frequently occur when there are high moisture levels in the atmosphere. This often happens during harvesting and storage when the produce is stored before its dried to the right moisture level of 13%. According to available data, about 25% of the world’s cereals are contaminated by aflatoxins. Domestic animals that consume contaminated feeds produce products that are also contaminated with the toxins.
The most noticeable signs of infection on corn kernels is a grey-green or yellow-green mold, but not all moldy grains indicate contamination – even clean looking grains can be contaminated and its only by testing that one can determine that the produce is contaminated. Washing, cleaning or cooking does not eliminate aflatoxins. Contamination can have adverse health effects such on both human and animals especially in the case of acute poisoning that may cause instant fatality while the effects of chronic poisoning may not show its symptoms immediately.
The most noticeable signs of Aflatoxin poisoning include swollen stomach, hands and legs, fever and sometimes jaundice. Severe poisoning can cause liver cancer, stunted growth in children, reduced immunity and death especially when exposed to acute contamination. American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) has classified aflatoxins as Class 1 carcinogens.
In 2004, about one hundred and twenty-five cases of human death related to aflatoxin exposure were reported in Kitui, Makueni and Machakos. It should therefore be noted that aflatoxin contamination and poisoning can kill, but together we can reduce the risk. We should all dedicate our efforts to implement prevention strategies and technologies in order to sustainably bring this menace under control.