The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (Karlo) has launched the country’s first ever aflatoxin laboratory to tame aflatoxin poisoning which has so far killed more than 100 people and cost the country Sh89billion in losses across the agricultural value chain.
The launch is timely, with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) reports indicating that Kenya is one of the world’s hotspots for aflatoxins, with 2004 and 2010 being the years the country recorded the highest incidence of acute toxicity since records began.
In 2010, the government estimated that 10 per cent of the maize harvest was contaminated by aflatoxin, with losses valued at Sh89 billion, which cut across the value chain, hence affecting farmers, millers, traders and consumers.
The poisoning has become especially complicated because majority of small scale farmers who produce the contaminated maize consume the contaminated maize. The lab was launched together with a Sh14.62 million facility to produce a bio-pesticide known as aflasafe, which can suppress aflatoxin producing fungi in the soil.
The plant will be expected to produce 15 tons of the aflasafe in a week, with the initial target being to produce sufficient amounts to treat about 100, 000 hectares. The facility will also serve in making aflasafe for local and regional trials and serve as a demonstration facility for manufacturing and business plan development,” he said, adding that construction of the factory, the first of its kind in Africa, will be completed within 12 months.
Aflatoxin has been widely reported in Eastern Province, and also in Western Kenya in the maize basket of Rift Valley. Some 70 per cent of local maize is informally traded at village level by subsistence farmers, making this anti-aflatoxin initiative particularly vital.
At subsistence level, farmers often sell their better grain and retain the poor grains for themselves. This has left farmers and their families consuming grains with a higher likelihood of being infected with aflatoxin, which causes liver disorders and death.