Tanzania: Tantrade - Aflatoxin a Serious Problem

MAIZE and groundnuts farmers have been warned on unsafe levels of aflatoxin in crops, a poisonous fungus that threatens their livelihoods and the health of consumers as it may cause cancer.

Addressing members of the Parliamentary Committee on Trade, Industry and Environment in Dodoma yesterday, Tanzania Trade Development Authority (TanTrade) Director-General Edwin Rutageruka said the country's export potential of groundnuts into European and Asian markets have been hampered by the deadly carcinogenic fungus found in the food crops.

Medical and expert studies have suggested that aflatoxin, a well-known toxic chemical produced by a common fungus in soils and crop debris, attacks maize and peanut crops in the field, during harvest and grows to the storage.

The food crops remain unsafe for consumption regardless of the volume of heat during cooking or roasting. Contaminated maize or groundnuts fall below the international market standards for food safety and consumers are prone to liver diseases, especially cancer and lethal poisoning.

At lower levels, it also causes lowered immunity and irreversible stunting in children.

Livestock that consume contaminated feed are also affected, and dairy animals consuming contaminated feed can pass aflatoxins in their milk to young animals or humans.

He said although the government had held some countless operations to train farmers and extension officers, locals still exercise traditional means of drying crops.

"Even if we are to go to Kibaigwa International Grain Markets you will find people drying their crops on the bare ground," Rutegeruka said. It is believed that when farmers dry their foods on the bare ground it increases the risk of moulds.

Experts suggest that mould species like Aspergillus Flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus grow on foods producing aflatoxins to contaminate the crops.

"We can only say we have effective immune but results from global laboratories shows the crops are unacceptable and unsafe."

He said the authority has recruited over 30 personnel charged with market intelligence to guide farmers and businessmen to produce based on market quality and quantity demands.

Deputy Chairperson of the Committee, Rtd Col Masoud Ali Khamis wanted the authority and the government to resolve challenges limiting local manufacturers from accessing foreign markets.

The committee observed that a number of industries have a large stock with no hope for the domestic market. He said this requires appropriate actions to ensure producers get a permit for exports.

"We are also urging the government to consider such products that are not within the regional market integration to impose such heavy import duties as an alternative to allow a conducive market for locally produced goods," he said.

Last year, scientists at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) announced their breakthrough of Aflasafe, a natural solution of four fungal strains to fight aflatoxin.

They had commissioned trials in Morogoro, Dodoma, Mtwara and Manyara regions with support from the US department of agriculture at the USAID-Tanzania.

It is estimated that about 670million US dollars are lost annually in Africa to Aflatoxin infections on cereals, grains, and legumes.

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