As Uganda looks towards exploiting its advantage in the agricultural sector through increasing the volumes of exports, experts have warned of the danger to that goal arising from prevalence of high levels of ‘poison’ produced by mould in grain produced by fangus called Aspergillus flavus.
Although the fungi occur naturally in the environment, they tend to colonize moist grain, flour made from grain, poorly stored and processed fish and milk. But researchers have found that consumption of foods containing the moulds, even at low levels can cause liver cancer, stunting in children and compromises growth in humans and livestock.
Experts from the Ministries of Agriculture, Health as well as Trade recently agreed to a proposal that seeks to introduce regulations on the sale of grains as well as food stuffs made from grains.
The proposed measures come after news that a consignment of Uganda’s Sorghum destined to South Korea was rejected because it contained the cancer causing moulds scientifically known as aflatoxins. The new sense of concern over the adverse effects of aflatoxins follows
Convened in Kampala by the African Union Department for Rural Economy and Agriculture, Ugandan officials raised alarm at the impact of high levels of aflatoxins on the health and incomes of Ugandans as well as on the country’s trade potential.
Beatrice Byarugaba, the Head of Extension Services in the Ministry of Agriculture told the meeting that the ministry intends to introduce a certification procedure for all grain exports to eliminate exports that are contaminated.
Dr. Patrick Tusiime, the Commissioner, National Disease Control attributed the increase in cancer cases in Uganda to increased consumption of foods contaminated with aflatoxins.
Although grain trade for Uganda in mostly a regional affair, increased awareness about its impacts in the neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Tanzania is leading to concern that soon standards will be introduced to stop importation of aflatoxin infested grain.
Experts further say that the toxic substances also impair growth of humans and livestock, as well as suppressing the immune system.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) allows 10ppb (Parts per billion) as the maximum level of aflatoxins in food. The European Union, which is one of Uganda’s major trading partners allows just 5ppb.
Different studies carried out in Uganda have found that grains especially Maize, Ground nuts, and Sorghum contain very high levels of aflatoxins, far and above internationally accepted safe levels. One study by Makerere University Researcher Prof. Achileo Kaaya found that on average maize samples contain 97ppb.
With support from the African Union’s Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA), Uganda has developed an Action Plan to tackle the problem across the agricultural value chain as well as in the health sectors.
Uganda’s Aflatoxin Mitigation Action Plan has attracted acclaim from the African Union which says Uganda has once again demon