Nelly Bassily | May 17, 2010
On May 9, Prime Minister Raila Odinga of Kenya warned of a possible aflatoxin outbreak. The government stated that contamination is widespread and serious in parts of the Coast and Eastern provinces. Samples of maize harvested last season have been found to contain high levels of aflatoxin.
Aflatoxins are poisons produced by some species of fungi. The fungi can contaminate grain before harvest or during storage. Maize, sorghum, millet and groundnuts are some of the crops susceptible to aflatoxin contamination. Aflatoxins typically occur when there is high humidity, or when grain is not dried properly. Careful drying and storage can prevent contamination.
Contaminated grain is toxic to humans and animals. If contaminated maize is consumed over a period of time, it can cause serious health problems and even death. In 2004, Kenya experienced an outbreak. Heavy rains made it difficult for farmers to dry their harvests. Approximately 150 people died in the arid and semi-arid areas of the country.
Government officials have reacted quickly to prevent this happening again. Prime Minister Odinga directed the National Cereal and Produce Board to buy back all suspect maize. This will prevent it from reaching the market and potential consumers. He also announced that the government will adequately compensate farmers in the affected areas for any loss of income. In addition, they will provide uncontaminated maize to those farmers for consumption.
The government also announced that aflatoxin test kits will be available in all National Cereals and Produce Board depots. All maize harvested locally and from neighbouring countries will be monitored and tested. The National Youth Service and the army will construct appropriate drying and storage facilities in time for the harvest, to minimize contamination. In addition, an aflatoxin awareness campaign is planned. The campaign will inform the public about the potential health risks and on how to stop contamination spreading.
The Prime Minister informed a press conference that a final test on the suspect maize would be concluded at a later date.