By now, some of our readers may have noticed our frequent mention of aflatoxin in our articles. You may be wondering: what is it? Why is it such a problem in African countries and what can be done about it?
Aflatoxin is a toxic substance that is produced by fungal molds that can develop in crops when they are not properly protected from moisture or stored properly. Crops are primarily affected by aflatoxin molds during their maturation phase and post-harvest storage phase, particularly when the crops are not dried properly or are stored in damp conditions.
If crops and plants infected by aflatoxin are not weeded out before being sold into the market, the aflatoxin can end up carrying on into food products and the food supply. When ingested by people, aflatoxin is known to cause many health problems, including liver cancer, stunting, reproductive issues, autoimmune conditions, and general food poisoning. Maize is one of the biggest cash crops that is commonly affected by aflatoxin; peanuts are another.
Clearly, the prevalence of aflatoxin in African crops presents a danger to the health of the people consuming the foods produced there. It also prevents the region from developing a stronger position in the global trade markets. According to the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, “exports of agricultural commodities particularly peanuts from Sub-Saharan African countries have declined by as much as 20% over the past two decades owing to rejection arising from non-compliance with the European Union (EU) market regulations on mycotoxins. This clearly poses a serious hurdle to international trade in this commodity.”
Combating the prevalence of aflatoxin is one of our primary aims at the World Food Bank, and this issue is at the forefront of the educational training that we provide to our smallholder farmers across Uganda and beyond. We look forward to continuing to bring you more information on our work in this area in the future.