The country risks being blacklisted in the European market if steps are not taken to control the high levels of aflatoxin content in its agricultural produce – with maize and groundnut top on the radar, Sally Kai Adoley Adjetey, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), has said.
According to her, Aflatoxin contamination in key staples and cash crops such as maize, groundnuts and sorghum is on the increase in Ghana, with a precarious health and economic burden on the population.
She further stated that groundnuts from Ghana have already been banned from the EU market, while multinational beverage companies such as Guinness have also stopped buying sorghum from smallholder farmers since last year due to this aflatoxin content.
“Ghanaian export and import businesses that sell food to Europe and the West regularly lose significant revenue due to aflatoxin contamination. This has economic implications which include loss of business opportunities and reputation. However, it not only affects our trade and economy but also has adverse impacts on our health – such as skin, liver and breast cancer among others,” she said.
She further noted that the poultry industry is also bearing a burden from the presence of aflatoxins in their production, as feeds are produced with aflatoxin-infected cereals. The effects, she said, include low egg production, reduced weight and increased mortality when birds are fed with aflatoxin-contaminated feed.
Ms. Adoley is calling on government and all other stakeholders to put together a policy that makes available various options for mitigating aflatoxin infections – such as ‘Aflasafe’ – and enforce the products’ use by farmers so they practice aflatoxin-free farming; further adding that education must be intensified for both citizenry and farmers on aflatoxins and their effects.
She noted that the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is working in collaboration with the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) and Ministry of Agriculture as well as Ghana Export Promotion Authority (GEPA), among others, to develop and push for implementation of a National Aflatoxin Policy to address the epidemic.
According to GSA, Ghana receives persistent notifications from the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed – a system that reports food safety issues within the European Union – on excessive aflatoxin levels in foods; including groundnut, groundnut butter, maize meal and Kenkey.
“Hitherto, there were largely post-harvest approaches to addressing it: like making sure the crops are properly dried and ensuring that the storage facilities are properly ventilated and lighted among others. But this is not enough to deal with the infections, and therefore it is important that right from the planting or cultivation stage farmers are educated and equipped to use mitigation factors and practice safer means of production,” the GSA noted.
Aflatoxins are natural poisons produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus and several other related species. This fungus resides in soil and infects crops in the field. These are harmful poisonous substances that exist in our environment, and so require solutions which address it from the roots.