Over 80% of grain-based food produced and consumed in Northern Uganda is contaminated with mycotoxins, research by Gulu University Faculty of Agriculture and Environment has shown.
The three-year-long research titled Holistic Approach to Combat Mycotoxin Contamination in Northern Uganda (HAMNU) was conducted in twelve districts in Northern Uganda between August 2018 and 2022. It was supported by Ghent University.
It also discovered that 98% of people in the same area of different age brackets also present with high levels of mycotoxins traces in their bodies.
The research was conducted on four grain-based foods including sorghum, millet, maize, and ground nuts which are believed to be most consumed in the region.
The districts where the food and people were examined are Lango and Acholi sub-regions include Gulu, Nwoya, Kole, Oyam, Omoro, Kitgum, Pader, Agago, Lamwo, and Lira as well as parts of Karamoja.
Mycotoxins are toxic compounds that are naturally produced by certain types of molds (fungi). The types include aflatoxins, fumonisins, ochratoxins, and deoxynivalenol.
Experts say consuming food containing mycotoxins is associated with health risks like liver cancer, immunosuppression, loss of appetite, hepatitis B, growth impairment, immune malfunction, and acute exposure is fatal.
Researchers at Gulu University say all samples of millets, maize, ground nuts, and sorghum that were collected for laboratory qualification had all forms of mycotoxins.
The researchers name sorghum, ground nuts, and maize with the highest concentration of mycotoxins while millet presented the least concentration.
Associate Professor Richard Echodu who led the research told URN during an interview on Friday that most of the food eaten in the region is not safe for consumption due to the high level of mycotoxins contamination.
Professor Echodu explained that the researchers undertook longitudinal studies, interacted with farmers, and picked samples of at least 0.5 and 1kg of grains for laboratory qualification of mycotoxins.
The researchers engaged more than 300 farmers from within their households, from two parishes of two sub-counties from each district.
According to Professor Echodu, poor harvest management, and handling, poor food grains drying processes, unconducive storage mechanisms especially exposing food to wet conditions, and limited aeration.
He also advised people to avoid eating the assorted damaged seeds or using them to brew alcohol or feed animals noting that they still impact the products.
Besides health risks, Godfrey Wokorach who took part in the research notes that mycotoxins also undermine the economic quality of grains leading to financial implications.
He notes that reducing contamination levels will expose farmers to better markets and better income.
Professor Geert Haesaert of Ghent University who was part of the research says that the prevalence of mycotoxins in grains is not determined by the genotype of varieties of the grain.
Dorcus Alum, the Lira District Agricultural Officer says that the research is so touching and calls for sensitizing of the community.
Fred Opiyo, a resident of Gulu City says the research finding is not magical looking at the dying healthy food preservation and storage mechanisms that the Acholi people had such as granaries on hilltops.
In March last year, Kenya stopped the importation of maize from Uganda because of quality concerns over reports of the presence of aflatoxins, which is one of the mycotoxins.