Thursday, 30 January 2014

Let's talk about aflatoxins.........

When the word Aflatoxin is mentioned what courses through your mind?

 For many Kenyans, they will relate it  to some massive deaths that occured on the Eastern part of Kenya after the residents consumed aflatoxin exposed maize. The condition is what scientists refer to as aflatoxicosis. Word is, for an average Kenyan, the levels of aflatoxins intoxication has been on the rise, with major contributors to the same being consumption of dairy and meat products from the farms.

So in the real essence, what is  this deadly thing called Aflatoxins?

Aflatoxins and their Effects......
Aflatoxins refer to a group of  about 20 toxic chemicals that are released by the food molds Aspergillus flavas and A. parasticus. The fungus are naturally present in the soil and tends to affect mostly cereals the likes of maize and groundnuts. When these toxic chemicals are ingested in higher quantities,(> than 20 ppb) they result to massive deaths, a condition known as acute aflatoxicosis.
Such is the outbreak that occurred in Kenya in 1994 and in 2004 resulting to deaths of not less than 300 and 150 persons respectively.
Apart from instant deaths, the chemicals released by the fungus have been documented as carcinogenic with continued intake resulting to liver cancer, one of the most deadliest form of cancer.

Aflatoxin Infected groundnuts.Photo PACA
Aflatoxins  prevalence is usually higher in low income countries whose major consumption consists of  staple foods the  likes of  maize and groundnuts. According to IFPRI, approximately 26000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa die annually due to liver cancer which is closely related to aflatoxins exposure. This is further propelled by the fact that most of the markets in these areas are poorly organized, with no (or poor)information  flow on the food quality.

There is also notable immune suppression from overdue exposure of aflatoxins and  in the cases of children, stunted growth is highly evident.

In animals, the results evidence themselves through a reduction in weight mostly due to lower feed intake and the inefficient feed conversion. Consumption of meat and dairy products from animals that have been fed aflatoxin exposed maize results to higher concentrations for the same in the body.

Suggested Solutions

  • Improved cropping practices where in areas where aflatoxin exposure is prevalent, other crops are grown.
  • Proper harvesting and drying of maize.
  • Utilization of food additives like NovaSil that help bind together the toxic chemicals in the gut hence reducing their toxicity. Unfortunately most of these additives are in the trial stages. 
  • Creating awareness of aflatoxins in our communities, by the agricultural extension officers taking the lead to educate communities on the same.
  • Introduction of Aflasafe a bio-competitive sorghum product that works to harbor the Aflatoxins strains in the farm.

Further Reading

Aflatoxins. Finding solutions to improved food safety

Aflatoxin Mitigation in Africa