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    By Lydia Gichuki

    aflatoxinWith a shortage of maize looming, farmers are turning to test kits to isolate grain that has been contaminated by aflatoxins and help save the remainder of their crops.

    The World Health Organisation estimates that about a quarter of all food produced globally is destroyed every year because of aflatoxin contamination.  The fungus, which flourishes in damp post-harvest conditions, causes cancer, liver failure and weakened immunity in humans and animals, and Kenya has been found to be the world’s top hotspot for the toxin.

    As a result, many Kenyan farmers are now treating their soils with Aflasafe to try and lower the aflatoxins in farms. It is also possible to use fungicides and preservatives to reduce the fungal growth. But the best way to prevent the growth is by drying the maize grain at speed, which is not always possible in Kenya’s sometimes damp conditions, and has been made particularly difficult in recent months by the country’s extended rainy seasons.

    RELATED CONTENT:Government intensifies marketing, distribution of Aflasafe to help farmers fight aflatoxin

    Earlier this year, the country lost 10,000 hectares of cropland to the high rainfall during the 2019 November short rains, which continued into the harvesting season for maize in January and February, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. More crops were lost as the maize did not have adequate time to dry, causing high levels of aflatoxins.

    The kits allow farmers to test for aflatoxin levels in maize on their farms without taking it to government laboratories and private labs. They can also help prevent loss, by equipping farmers to test immediately after harvesting and prevent cross-contamination with maize harvested earlier or later that is uncontaminated.

    RELATED CONTENT:Simple indigenous ways to reduce aflatoxin levels in maize meals

    Rachel Wangui of FnS Scientific says there are two kits available in Kenya, the Elisa lab for big millers and a test strip format that for farmers in the field. The test strip tests cost Sh5,000 plus VAT and come with a portable reading machine called Raptor, which is an integrated analysis platform, an extraction solvent, ethanol, and 48 strips.

    The strip tests provide a far cheaper option for farmers, equating to about Sh900 per test across multiple testing points, compared with a cost of Sh2,500 to Sh3,000 for a single test in a laboratory.

    “The number of tests carried out is dependent on the quantity of the maize, because a representative sample must be sampled. For instance, if the maize is stored in a room, a sample must be taken from the four corners in the room, at the centre and from the one hugged, because the levels are heterogeneous. This can be expensive for any farmer to have tests done in a laboratory,” said Wangui.

    It also only takes six minutes for the strips to give a result, compared to two or more days when the tests are carried out in a laboratory.

    No technical skills are needed to do or interpret the results, with the legal level of aflatoxin in grain set at less than 10 parts per billion (ppb).

    To measure the level of aflatoxins, the maize is ground then ethanol is added to extract the aflatoxin and then placed on the strip, which is then placed inside the Raptor machine, which gives a quantitative result, for instance 10ppb, or 20ppb or more.

    Aflatoxins tend to contaminate plants that have already been weakened by other factors, such as drought or pests. Therefore, it is important for farmers to know how they can prevent grain loss.

    Pre-harvesting, farmers should plant seeds that are resistant to diseases, pests and drought, with preference for seeds that germinate and grow rapidly, and apply Aflasafe two weeks prior to flowering. Crop rotation also helps break pest and disease cycles and improve soil fertility, as do soil additions, such as manure or lime, and timely planting to avoid mid- and late-season drought.

    Post-harvesting, farmers should sort out and remove all damaged, mouldy, and shrunken grains. This sorting reduces aflatoxins level by 40 per cent to 80 per cent, and is therefore often critical to saving the rest of the crop.

    RELATED CONTENT:Moisture meters tame aflatoxin poisoning in Uganda

    The grains should then be dried well, ideally by ensuring they are dried in direct sunlight, covered in the evening and dried on ground that has been cleaned. Farmers need to ensure the moisture of the grain is below 13.5 per cent before storage.

    By Jenny Luesby

    fimineSo the numbers are finally coming in: we are going to kill 180x more people per day with the current Covid-19 measures than are dying from the disease itself, says the World Food Programme (WFP) - as in, 300,000 people a day, in over 30 nations of which Kenya is one, compared with the average 1,666 people a day dying from Covid-19 across the entire globe.

    Now it becomes clear why we always had jokes about Lemmings going over a cliff to suicide, as we create the world’s biggest ever, what the WFP calls ‘biblical’ famine for our people.

    So how exactly are we heading to mass murder?

    First off are locusts. Now I may have these details wrong. If I do, please comment. But I have asked questions everywhere and this is the information I have. The starting-point was the Food and Agricultural Organisation saying limited air cargo was curbing the availability of pesticides for locust spraying. Now, I have no idea why our media didn’t chase that assertion and test it. But, there are more than 500 tonnes a week of air cargo space coming into Nairobi, mostly empty, because the actual demand is for outgoing space for our own fresh produce. So how can over 2000 tonnes of mostly available incoming air cargo space a month be a barrier to bringing in some 200 tonnes of pesticide? Something isn’t adding up.

    And it isn’t. For the actual problem is which pesticides are used.

    The FAO is buying a traditional and well proven anti-locust molecule. It just happens to be made in Japan, and not in great quantities, there not having been this many locusts in living memory, so it is taking time to produce, and yes, there does now appear to be a problem airlifting it from Japan, as a direct result of lockdowns and COVID-19, so now it is being sent by ship, taking six weeks per delivery.

    Our government looked for alternative sprays and found plenty – eight already approved in Kenya for locust use – and the industry brought in stocks. But the government has no money left – sorry to be blunt, guys, but those taxes are not rolling in. The FAO is paying, and it will not consider any of the available pesticides, even though the whole world order has changed since its procurement from Japan.

    So Kenyans and other East Africans are going to starve. And if you think that’s a mind-blowing reason to kill people, try the next two causes.

    The first is police roadblocks, and all those police now broke on the thousands of matatus not running that they were ‘fining on the spot’ every day on every road. Their only last revenue spot: people trying to bring food into our capital. So food is essential, it’s defined as essential, 4.5m Nairobeans need food, but the police are fighting nearly every food pick up that arrives, in case, you know, food isn’t food today and in case, too, we can live on no food.

    As a result, food grown and destined for Nairobi is moving into local, rural markets. Meru market prices have fallen to less than one-fifth of their levels of a month ago as produce pours in surplus to requirements. Farmers are literally trashing entire harvests. So guess what – they are not planting. We’re being told not to worry, because we will import. But we were already importing, for example, 90 per cent of our rice, from Asia, and large world producers like Vietnam and Cambodia have now banned rice exports. The truth is our normal Sh1bn of food imports are also not going to be available.

    So what do we need? First, FAO get over yourselves and adapt to the broken supply chain on your original pesticide order. Second, government, make it criminal for any police to stop a food delivery, punishable with your deepest dungeons. Third, tell every farmer, you must plant!

    We need our biggest crop ever. Imports are a fantasy. And food will keep us alive to the end of 2020, where no food will be the point at which rioters are raiding Runda to reach the larders, and we are all dying.


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