Farmers in Kenya to gain from new facilities aimed at controlling aflatoxins

An article in SciDev.Net by Esther Nakkazi reports on the recent opening of a new laboratory and biopesticide processing plant in Kenya. The two facilities will help research, monitor and control aflatoxin contamination in staple crops.

Read the full article on SciDev.Net, Farmers to gain from projects to combat aflatoxins

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Aflatoxin: A fungal toxin infecting the food chain

Aflatoxins present both acute and chronic health effects. Acute exposure to very high levels of aflatoxins can be fatal, as has happened in Kenya in recent years. The most severe outbreak of aflatoxicosis ever reported in Kenya occurred in 2004 in Eastern Province, resulting in 317 cases of illness and 125 deaths.

Chronic exposure to low levels of aflatoxins has been linked to liver cancer, which is estimated to lead to as many as 26,000 deaths annually in sub-Saharan Africa.

Aflatoxins in contaminated animal feed can end up in milk, meat and eggs. Infants are also at risk as aflatoxins can be passed in breast milk, and  in utero via the umbilical cord. Exposure to aflatoxins has been associated with stunting in children, as well as suppression of the immune system.

The infographic below gives a pictorial representation of the flow of aflatoxins in the food chain.

New study quantifies aflatoxin exposure in Kenya

Aflatoxin infected maize
Aflatoxin infected maize. Findings of a new research study suggest that aflatoxin exposure is a public health problem throughout Kenya.  (Photo: IITA)

In the past few weeks, I’ve been doing some reading on aflatoxins to keep myself updated with recent research on this subject, with a particular focus on Kenya.

I came across a recent study on human aflatoxin exposure in Kenya carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Kenya Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation.

The study aimed at assessing aflatoxin exposure throughout the entire country. Most of the previous outbreaks of aflatoxicosis in Kenya occurred in Kenya’s Eastern Province, but since there is no national aflatoxin surveillance, it was not known if aflatoxicosis outbreaks were limited to that region or if they occur in other regions of the country. The study also sought to find out if aflatoxin exposure varied by demographic, socioeconomic and ecological factors.

From analysis of aflatoxin levels in serum specimens from the 2007 Kenya AIDS Indicator survey — a nationally representative, cross-sectional survey — aflatoxin B1 was detected in 78% of the specimens.

Aflatoxin exposure did not vary by sex, age group, religion, marital status or socioeconomic characteristics. However, exposure to aflatoxin varied by province, with the highest levels recorded in Eastern and Coast provinces and the lowest in Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces.

The bottom line is that human exposure to aflatoxin across Kenya can be considered to be a public health problem, in light of the widespread exposure levels that cut across the spectrum of age, sex and socioeconomic status. All the more reason for increased education and awareness on this public health risk and the practical steps that can be taken to control it.

In this Business Daily article on the persistent problem of aflatoxin contamination in maize in Kenya (published 27 Oct 2013),  I found out that some researchers at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) are carrying out studies on the susceptibility of maize varieties to aflatoxin so that they can breed aflatoxin-resistant varieties. I think that would be a great leap forward in the fight against aflatoxin contamination in the country.

New study finds aflatoxin in Kenyan maize more widespread than previously thought

Came across a press release on the IFPRI website that tells of a recent study in Kenya that sought to document the levels of aflatoxin contamination in maize value chains.

The findings are pretty worrying… a significant proportion of samples had aflatoxin levels that were above the legal limit of 10 parts per billion.

Read the press release here.