Practical solutions to aflatoxins
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CTA. 2005. Practical solutions to aflatoxins. Rural Radio Resource Pack 05/5. Wageningen, The Netherlands: CTA.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/57281
Dr Benjani Theu, Malawi?s national coordinator for plant protection, explains what aflatoxins are, and what farmers can do to prevent the growth of the fungi that produce them.
Practical solutions to aflatoxins Cue: Maize and groundnuts are among the most important crops grown in Africa, providing energy and protein to millions. Sometimes, however, these crops can carry a danger to health, particularly if they are not properly dried before storage, or are stored in damp conditions. Such moisture can allow fungi to grow on the stored crop, and some types of common fungi produce poisonous substances, called aflatoxins, which contaminate the maize or groundnuts. Unfortunately, aflatoxins are not destroyed by cooking, and eating contaminated foods, particularly over a long period, can have serious impacts on health. There are, however, many practical things that farmers can do to prevent the growth of fungi and cut the risk of aflatoxin contamination. In the following interview, Excello Zidana discusses some of these strategies with Dr Benjani Theu, Malawi?s National Co-ordinator for Plant Protection. Dr Theu begins with a brief description of what aflatoxins are. IN: ?Aflatoxins are substances that are ?? OUT: ??and it would be very very bad.? DUR?N 3?47? BACK ANNOUNCEMENT: Dr Benjani Theu of the Malawi Ministry of Agriculture, describing the dangers to health from foods contaminated by aflatoxins ? natural poisons that are produced by certain fungi which grow on poorly stored maize and groundnuts. Transcript Theu Aflatoxins are substances that are released by a fungus which attacks our crops. Zidana What is the real problem with these aflatoxins to human life? Theu Aflatoxins as I said are substances that will get into our food. When it gets into your food, it gets into your liver. Then it affects your liver negatively, and it could reduce the immune system in your body. It could also incite the production of abnormal cells in the liver, therefore the liver becomes cancerous, then you have what we call cancer of the liver. Zidana What can you say about all the cultural practices in the field or up to the storage time? Theu The crop in our country that has got very high levels of aflatoxin is groundnuts, then you second it with grains like maize. What happens is, when you are in the field, there is this fungus which is already in the field and it attacks our groundnut kernels. So what we have encouraged farmers to do is, they should make sure their crops are very dry, then they make a selection before storing, so that you don?t have to store groundnut kernels or shells or pods that are cracked. You store very good groundnuts and then when you also shell them, you make another selection. That way will do very well. Zidana Now let?s come to the actual storage facilities; people have argued that the right granary should be a raised house whereby people can maybe have some fire below. How do you look at this facility? Theu Yes, if you have a raised one and then you light the fire below, it means you are perpetually denying it of moisture, so actually the grain will stay very well. But there are some types of granaries or nkokwes which are not raised and they are kept with very low moisture and that?s fine. And then by not keeping it well covered, rain comes in it then it will not be a very good type of granary. You can also have a granary where there was aflatoxin affected maize last year, and if you did not clean it very well, and then you put in maize this year, and there is some level of moisture, especially during the rainy season, then the aflatoxin will spread onto the next grain. Zidana How do you look at the practice of harvesting produce before they have actually dried up? I?m looking at the current situation whereby people go around stealing some people?s produce and to run away from that people tend to harvest early. How do you look at this? Theu Even if you harvest early, you must let the maize, or the crop like groundnuts, dry adequately before it is stored. You cannot harvest it earlier and then leave it like that. The main problem which we have had is that people will harvest, and will put in a pile in our backyard and not ready to dry. Then after 3 ,4, days or 5 days or a week or 2 weeks, then we say ?Let?s now start drying it up.? And if you look at that type of groundnuts you will find that there?s a lot of fungus growing on it, as if you are trying to grow mushrooms. That is what has been a problem. Zidana But the truth is aflatoxins are very dangerous. Theu Aflatoxins are dangerous, and for those whose system is already immune-compromised or whose immune system is already down because of other ailments, like those who are HIV/Aids patients, then there will be a double blow in terms of the strength in their immune system, and it would be very very bad. End of track.