Patricia Bageine Ejalu, the Deputy Executive Director -Standards at UNBS
The Government of Uganda, through the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) and Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), in collaboration with the Grain Council Uganda (TGCU), Uganda National Farmer’s Federation (UNFFE), Food rights Alliance (FRA), PELUM and ESAFF have embarked on a campaign to fight against the high Aflatoxin levels in food stuffs, to promote consumption of safe food in the country.
The efforts, supported by OXFAM, come at a time when Uganda joins the world to celebrate World Food Safety Day 2022, under the theme: Safer food, better health.
Aflatoxins are poisonous substances produced by moulds when they infest produce that is not well-dried. High levels of Aflatoxins contaminate food crops like Cereals, legumes, oil crops and others, posing a serious health threat to humans and livestock. According to research, consuming foods with high aflatoxins levels increases the risk of contracting liver cancer and other related diseases, which could lead to death.
Besides health, high Aflatoxin levels are a major barrier to the exportation of Uganda’s agricultural produce to the East African Region and internationally.
Internationally, Aflatoxins pose a significant economic burden, which according to World Health Organization (WHO) 2018 report, causes an estimated 25% or more of the world’s food crop loss, consequently contributing to hunger.
Call for Joint efforts
Patricia Bageine Ejalu, the Deputy Executive Director -Standards at UNBS, says the campaign against high levels of Aflatoxins is aimed at creating awareness about this poison and training all stakeholders in the value chains, right from the farm to the final consumer, on how to handle food to avoid Aflatoxin contamination.
“This therefore calls for joint effort from every stakeholder: farmers, transporters, traders, manufacturers, Civil Society Organizations, the private sector, regulators and the consumers to join the fight against high Aflatoxin levels in food,” Ejalu says, adding: “The efforts also contribute to the attainment of the National Development Plan III goal to ‘Increase household incomes and improved quality of life’ and Sustainable Development Goals: SDG 1 on No Poverty, SDG 2 on attaining Zero Hunger, and SDG 3 on Good Health and Wellbeing.
Key focus on the farmers
Uganda is predominately an agricultural country, and almost everyone is involved in agriculture. While everyone is critical in the fight against aflatoxins, farmers are key stakeholders.
Stakeholders say farmers should adopt good agricultural practices that ensure the right moisture content in food to eliminate high Aflatoxin levels; Ensure that food crops are harvested when dry; Avoid storing food before thoroughly drying it; Dry the food crops properly on tarpaulins, canvas, mats or in cribs;· Dry crops using improved technologies that reduce drying time; Properly Cover harvested food during rainy seasons to keep it away from moisture; Avoid storing harvested food on the floor because they get damp and the moisture provides a conducive environment for moulds. Store food on pallets; Check crop dryness using the salt method or moisture meter and Regularly Clean, disinfect and repair the store.
Traders and Manufacturers
Traders and manufacturers should in turn, only purchase good quality produce from farmers and always offer better prices for well-maintained produce since this decreases the cost of quality maintenance for the trader.
Ejalu says they should also acquire a moisture meter to test moisture content of the produce to ensure it is not more than the recommended 13%, and an Aflatoxin testing kit to ensure that the Aflatoxin levels do not exceed 10ppb, before in putting it in the production chain.
Traders and manufacturers are also advised to acquire and adhere to the relevant quality standards from Uganda National Bureau of Standards via https://webstore.unbs.go.ug and ensure that all the manufacturing processes meet the quality standards.
They should also seek UNBS certification for the production processes and final products to ensure they are of good quality.
Transporters should; protect produce from rain and dust by ensuring that it is correctly packaged in clean bags and covered; Ensure that the produce is dried to required moisture content before transportation; Use clean vehicles in good mechanical condition to avoid contamination; Offload produce as soon as possible, upon delivery.
Consumers are advised to; Buy and consume foods certified by UNBS because you can guarantee safety of such products. Such goods have the UNBS Quality Mark (Q) affixed on the product packaging; Always report any distributor or dealer of expired or sub-standard products to the nearest police station and contact UNBS for redress on Toll Free Number; 0800133133
“Together, we call upon the government, development partners and other stakeholders to increase support to the value chains through research, extension, training, promotion of cooperatives, awareness and assistance in detecting and preventing aflatoxin so that foods produced and traded are safe for human and animal consumption and consequently Increase household incomes, improve food security and improve the quality of life as per the NDP III Goal,” Ejalu says.