DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
AFLATOXIN contamination has continued to be a barrier to food exports from Africa to global markets.
Aflatoxin is a naturally occurring poisonous and cancer-causing chemical produced by a certain green mould fungus found in the soil.
African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki said aflatoxins and other mycotoxins affect trade, consumer safety and health of people in African countries.
Mr Faki said the exposure to aflatoxins and other mycotoxins is one of the major constraints to improving the health and well-being of people in Africa where high levels of aflatoxin contamination have been confirmed.
He said smallholder farmers fail to prevent contamination during production and storage of their crops because they lack cost-effective ways to determine the poisons.
Mr Faki said this in Dakar, Senegal, during the third Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) partnership platform meeting.
“Africa loses an estimated US$670 million in rejected export trade annually due to contamination by aflatoxins to its major staple food, particularly maize and groundnuts,” he said.
Mr Faki said the health cost as a result of people unknowingly eating contaminated food runs into millions of dollars in a region with over-burdened health facilities.
He said Africa is at risk of these toxins which are linked to suppressed immunity, liver cancer in humans and stunting in children.
“Aflatoxins are known to cause liver cancer and other chronic health effects as well as death. They are the most pervasive food safety challenge facing Africa today,” he said.
And African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture Josefa Sacko said in recent decades, Africa has witnessed increased outbreaks of acute aflatoxin poisoning that tragically claimed hundreds of human lives in Eastern Africa.
Ms Sacko said such outbreaks are the tip of the iceberg to the major threat that Aflatoxins cause to Africa’s population.
“Aflatoxins are attributed to about a third of global liver cancer cases with 40 percent of them occurring in Africa, making liver cancer the top cause of cancer mortality on the continent,” she said.
And PACA programme manager Amare Ayalew said recent studies by PACA have shown that the monetary cost of liver cancer to Africa is in billions of United States dollars.
“There is also mounting evidence linking aflatoxins to childhood stunting,” he said.
Dr Amare said aflatoxins are a problem for agriculture, health and trade in Africa.
“At high doses, aflatoxins can cause acute poisoning and death. At chronic lower-level doses, they can cause liver cancer and chronic immunosuppression,” he said.
DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka