PUBLISHED ON April 11th, 2024

Millers Warn Of High Aflatoxin In Ugandan Maize Circulating In Kenya

Unsuspecting maize meal consumers could be exposed to high-levels of aflatoxin in maize imports trickling in from Uganda, the United Grain Millers Association has warned.

Aflatoxin, a poison produced by fungi in cereal crops including maize, peanuts, cottonseed and tree nuts could cause fatal poisoning and an increased risk of cancer.

United Grain Millers Association Chairman Kennedy Nyaga says that the millers have flagged hundreds of bags of maize consignment from Busia border entry point, with aflatoxins above recommended levels, impugning their business.

“We have had to turn away Ugandan maize on account of being contaminated with aflatoxins. Nevertheless, locally sourced stock is well dried, but we are worried that after we reject this Ugandan stock, it will still end up in the local market,” Nyagah told Citizen Digital.

The association has maintained that its members will not be milling the Ugandan maize, even as the supply, for the first time, outstrips demand on good weather and bumper harvest in the current season, but cautions this might shift.

“Our aflatoxin testing machines have picked worrying trends in the Uganda cereals to a tune of over 200 parts per billion, as opposed to the recommended ten to twenty parts per billion in the Comesa region,” he adds, pointing to laxity by regulators to scrutinise imports.

This even as in February this year, the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) received two high-end decontamination plants valued at Ksh.190 million to help clear aflatoxins in maize. One of the plants is stationed in Bungoma, a few kilometers from the Busia entry point, with another in the capital, Nairobi.

The two plants that clear aflatoxins to a tune of over 98 percent are part of a Ksh.350 million Canadian government donation through the TradeMark Africa (TMA) for Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, in a bid to boost safety of cereals in the region.

“Western Kenya was deemed a strategic location to set them up, as it has significant inflows from neighboring Uganda and Tanzania. Over 600,000 metric tons of maize is traded annually from Uganda to Kenya, and about 400,000 metric tons from Tanzania to Kenya,” TradeMark Africa says.

However, millers are perplexed that while it is a requirement that imported cereals should be assessed either at the Bungoma or Nairobi NCPB depots, laxity may have occurred ending up at their hands unchecked.

“We are working with KEBS at the border to clear this mess, and it is suspicious since it is so cheap to buy maize from Uganda and bring it here, so that points to something sinister and there is need to check on that,” Nyagah notes.

Kenya is one of the region’s countries that have set a maximum limit of 10 parts-per-billion for total aflatoxins in maize and maize products which are similar to limits established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the East African Community.

Despite the tough measure, recent harvests in Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu counties have had massive aflatoxin levels, a Kenya Agricultural Organisation (KALRO) research shows.

Countries in the European Union have had to bear the brunt of excessively stringent standard for allowable limits of aflatoxin in maize with a maximum limit of four ppb levels. This is the lowest, even as the US exported aflatoxin-high yellow maize cereals in the recent past.

Nyaga avers that since most Kenyans are economically hard-pressed, the use of poshomill produced maize flour has spiked, despite it lurking with the dangers of producing flour with high toxicity levels.

“Given the hard economic times, many Kenyans may not be able to purchase properly examined maize flour, and the possibility of consuming aflatoxins in their meals are high,” he says.

In 2021, Kenya attracted a barrage of criticism from Uganda and Tanzania, after banning maize imports from the two countries. At the time, the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) said the reason for the ban was that levels of mycotoxins, another toxin of family aflatoxin in the maize from the two countries were above safety limits.

But in less than a week the Kenyan government backtracked and announced that it had asked its East African Community trading partners to pass sanitary and phytosanitary standards on farm produce before it reached Kenya.

Even so, Kenyan maize meal and other cereal products have been turned away on account of high aflatoxins. Contamination is a long-standing problem, and for the region, food problem in one country could have an effect in its neighbours.

In November 2019, Uganda and Rwanda banned peanut brands imported from Kenya after the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) blacklisted them because of unsafe levels of aflatoxin. The ban has since been lifted.

Kenya is one of the world’s hotspots for aflatoxins, and is believed to be the highest incidence of acute toxicity ever documented. Severe outbreaks of illness from aflatoxins in 2004 and 2010, poisoned over 300 people in the 2004 alone, and killed over a hundred.

Domestic animals that consume feeds contaminated by aflatoxins also can become sick and die, in addition to contaminating dairy products, a study conducted by International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) shows.

Read original article

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TradeMark Africa.