Tackling Aflatoxins to boost people’s health and economic development in Africa

Healthy soils are the basis for healthy food production. Hence, the quality of soil can have a negative impact on the crops grown in it. For instance, soils can be contaminated by Aflatoxins, dangerous toxins, produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus, which infect food staples like groundnuts, corn and other crops.

These foodborne toxins represent an additional constant threat to Africa’s food security. They can cause serious diseases and are blamed for liver cancer. Despite the fact that Aflatoxins likely affect more people in Africa than common diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, they generally receive little public attention.

On 23-24 March 2016, GAIN took part in a two day workshop on engaging the health and nutrition sectors in Aflatoxin control in Africa organized by the Africa Union Commission (AUC) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The workshop brought together various stakeholders from the health and nutrition sectors, including representatives from member states, Partnership for Aflatoxin control in Africa (PACA) and AMERF Health Africa to discuss the need for engagement across sectors to identify solutions for the Aflatoxins problem in the continent.

The main objectives of the workshop were to foster multi-sectorial engagements for Aflatoxin control, particularly addressing health and nutritional hazards, and raise awareness among development professionals on the burden of Aflatoxins in Africa.

Aflatoxins pose a threat to food security, public health, trade, as well as broad development efforts. It is estimated that Africa loses around 450 million USD to crops that don’t meet international food safety standards and can’t be sold due to contamination. An outbreak of acute aflatoxin poisoning (aflatoxicosis) has been recorded in Kenya and the chronic exposure data in several African countries like Benin, Ghana, Cameron, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Gambia and Uganda.

Dr. Janet Edeme, Director of Rural Economy and Agriculture of the AUC, highlighted that women tend to be the most affected by these toxins, consequently exposing children during pregnancy. Aflatoxins increase their chances of being malnourished, developing iron deficiency anemia or having impaired growth.

Dr. Amare Ayalew, Program Manager of PACA-AUC urged the workshop participants to focus more on the solutions and actions that are necessary to jointly combat the problem. Dr. Joachim Osur, Director for Regional programs and field officer of Amerf Health Africa, stated in his remarks that tackling Aflatoxins is not just a nutritional and health issue, but a greater development initiative that will help achieve a number of SDGs.

Greg Garrett, Director, Food Fortification at GAIN, pointed out the link between effective food fortification interventions and combating these toxins.“Thus far 85 countries have mandated some kind of grain fortification with essential vitamins and minerals, and many of those are in Africa. However, the bad news is that some 25% of crops worldwide are infected with mycotoxin and what needs to be done is work together with the PACA, the African Union and the government to solve this major issue affecting millions of people in Africa”, he said.

 

Read more about the workshop “Mitigating the Health and Nutrition Impacts of Aflatoxins in Africa through Uncommon Partnerships” here. The article is available in French here.

Find out more about GAIN’s programs to improve nutrition in Africa here.