Augmenting the Publics’ Knowledge on the Health Effects of Aflatoxin is Key to its Elimination from the Groundnut Chain in Sub Saharan Africa: An Opinion Editorial

Authors: Limbikani Matumba[1], Kerstin Hell[2], Benoit Gnonlonfin3, Mweshi Mukanga4, and Henry Njapau5

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Groundnut is an important crop, economically and nutritionally in the Tropics and Subtropics. However, it is one of the most susceptible hosts for certain pathogenic fungi resulting in aflatoxin contamination. Long-term exposure to aflatoxin increases the risk of liver cancer, compromises immunity and interferes with protein metabolism and multiple micronutrients that are critical to health. Importantly, there is substantial evidence that aflatoxins increase the rate of progression from HIV infection to AIDS.

 

To protect citizens from the harmful effects of aflatoxins, most governments have established regulatory limits for the toxin in food including groundnuts. However this control strategy works principally in countries with a developed quality control system. Developing countries including Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) have different trade practices which make the implementation of aflatoxin regulations inherently difficult. Moreover, most SSA countries lack resources for the implementation of aflatoxin regulation,  besides having favorable ecologies for toxin development. Consequently, the aflatoxin health burden is comparatively higher in developing countries. Most economies in SSA countries are predominantly agricultural-based and regulatory requirements are only met on export crops while foods on local/domestic markets are largely uncontrolled risking the health safety of the local consumers. This reductionist approach has left a large fraction of the population of SSA including the groundnuts value chain players ignorant of the health effects of aflatoxins. It is therefore not surprising that 20-30 years after inception of numerous aflatoxin control/mitigation projects in the region, the majority of consumers continue to be exposed to aflatoxin.

 

It is worth stressing that extensive research work has been carried out and several aflatoxin control and management strategies do exist. These are good agricultural practice, including crop rotation, timely planting, use of agro-ecologically adapted varieties, proper disease and pest management including the use of bio-control agents, breeding for resistance, timely harvesting, proper moisture control, proper cleaning and sorting, improved storage and processing. However, implementation of these sometimes labor intensive techniques demands increased public awareness on the health risk associated with consuming aflatoxin  contaminated food, so that inconsequence intermediate and end-users would be ready to pay a higher price for better quality. Moreover knowledgeable farmers are likely to ensure safety of their own food and in the process make the whole production chain safer and facilitate trade of high quality produce. In this regard, we strongly recommend that future aflatoxin control and mitigation efforts should ensure that all foodstuffs, including those sold in local/domestic markets, are safe. Key to such programs would be capacitating key players with the knowledge of the health impact of aflatoxin to buttress a campaign for the adoption of efficient technologies to reduce toxins from seed to consumption.


[1] Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (NRC campus), Food Technology and Nutrition Group, P.O Box 143, Lilongwe (alimbikani@gmail.com)

[2] International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, P.O. Box 08-0932, Cotonou, Benin (k.hell@cgiar.org)

3 Catholic University of Eastern Africa, P.O. Box 62157, 00200 Nairobi, Kenya (bgnonlonfin74@gmail.com)

4Zambia Agriculture Research Institute, P.O. Box 350007, Chilanga, Zambia (mmweshi@gmail.com)

5National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research, P.O. Box 310158, Lusaka, Zambia (hnjapau@hotmail.com)

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