News and Views on Africa from Africa
Last update: 4 January 2014 h. 17:37
Subscribe to our RSS feed
RSS logo

Latest news

...
Tuesday 24 April 2012

Tanzania: Two Projects to Combat Food Contamination Launched

The first research initiative will document the extent of mycotoxin contamination in food and the second will develop a comprehensive and lasting solution to reduce mycotoxins in the country to improve the health and livelihoods of millions of families in the country and reduce loss of income from banned trade of contaminated food.

By NewsfromAfrica

DAR ES SALAAM---The fight to control contamination of key staple foods in Africa by mycotoxins - poisonous chemicals secreted by naturally occurring fungi which attack crops in the field and during storage, making them unfit for human and livestock consumption at high levels of contamination - has been stepped up in Tanzania with the launch of two new research initiatives.

The first research initiative will document the extent of mycotoxin contamination in food and the second will develop a comprehensive and lasting solution to reduce mycotoxins in the country to improve the health and livelihoods of millions of families in the country and reduce loss of income from banned trade of contaminated food.  

Among the key targeted mycotoxins is aflatoxin produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus. Dubbed the ‘silent killer’, it has been shown to cause liver cancer and suppresses the body’s immune system at high levels of contamination, while the most severe levels of poisoning results in liver failure and death. Some studies indicate that aflatoxin contamination could be responsible for critically impairing the growth and development of children.

Livestock are also affected through consumption of contaminated feeds which can lead to reduced growth, yields and even death.  Mycotoxins are also passed on to human beings when they consume infected meat or milk.

Studies by the Tanzania Food and Drugs Administration (TFDA) have documented levels of aflatoxins in maize – the country’s number one staple food - that are way above the recommended maximum limits. However, knowledge on the extent of the problem across the country is lacking hampering awareness and efforts to control it. 

The first project, a six-month research funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Feed the Future initiative, will establish the extent and spread of mycotoxin contamination of maize and cassava at the homestead and in markets, focusing on Dodoma and Manyara.

The second initiative seeks to develop a safe and natural biocontrol technology that can effectively reduce aflatoxin contamination of maize and groundnut in the field and during storage.  

It is funded by Meridian Institute on behalf of the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) which was created at the recommendations of the 7th Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) Partnership Platform where the urgent need to control mycotoxin contamination was emphasized.  

The two projects were launched at a two-day meeting from 18 – 19 April in Dar es Salaam organized by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) that brought together all the partners to plan for their implementation.  

Speaking at the meeting, Dr Martin Kimanya of the Tanzania Food and Drug Administration (TFDA), one of the project partners, said inadequate pre and post-harvest management practices among small-holder farmers lead to the high and unacceptable levels of mycotoxins in maize and contribute greatly to the high statistics of stunted growth in children under five.

“While there has been a great reduction in the percentage of stunted children from 44% in 1996 to the latest statistics of 35% in 2010 due to improvements in the health of mothers. We are still far from achieving our Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to halve stunting by 2015, and one of the key factors we need to address is to reduce mycotoxins in staple foods” he said.

Aflatoxin is produced by a fungus, Aspergillus flavus. Luckily, however not all strains produce the toxin. The innovative biocontrol solution being proposed in the project therefore works by first identifying and then introducing the naturally occurring non-toxic strains ‘the good fungus’ that can out-compete, displace and drastically reduce the population of their poisonous cousins ‘the bad fungus’.

It has been successfully piloted in Nigeria under the name Aflasafe where it has been shown to reduce contamination by up to 99 per cent. Country specific biocontrol products are also being developed for Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Kenya and Zambia. This project aims at extending the technology to Tanzania where maize is the number one staple in the country and very susceptible to aflatoxin.

Dr Fen Beed, a plant pathologist with IITA and one of the project team leaders said the biocontrol technology that introduces the non-toxin producing fungus to push out the toxic ones is a very economically viable and environmentally safe way to control aflatoxin contamination if correctly applied.

“It has been researched for 25 years in the USDA-ARS in America and over 15 years by IITA in Nigeria and more recently in Kenya, Senegal and Burkina Faso,” he said. “It is a technology that uses naturally occurring fungus found in a country to out compete and displace the toxic producing ones.”

The biocontrol project is also being implemented in Ghana, Mali and Nigeria and will in addition focus on developing biocontrol regional products targeting other countries in West, East and Southern Africa. 

The partners in the country for the two projects include the Tanzania Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania Food and Drug Administration, USDA-ARS, Doreo Partners and African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).

Contact the editor by clicking here Editor