Mr George Anyebuno, Head of the Aflatoxin Laboratory of the Food Research Institute (FRI) has called on the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), the Grains Development Board and the Ministry of Health to treat the exposure to aflatoxins as a major public health issue.
He said these organizations should also incorporate prevention and control of exposure to aflatoxins in health, agricultural and social development policies and provides scientific advice for its prevention in Ghana.
These were contained in a Policy Brief, aimed at “Reducing Aflatoxins in Maize to Improve Incomes of Smallholder Farmers in Ghana,” discussed at the Policy Dialogue meeting held for farmers and policy makers of the Techiman Municipality on Aflatoxin.
The Policy Dialogue was jointly organised by ECASARD and SEND-GHANA with funding from the Southern African Trust.
Mr Anyebuno explained that aflatoxins were secondary metabolites produced by the fungi Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasitic, mostly found in maize, groundnuts, cassava, and yam chips.
“These toxins are also potent causes of cancer and suppress the immune system, causing humans and animals to be more susceptible to diseases. They are chemical compounds which have been found to be toxic to humans and animals”, he added.
He noted that the grains when contaminated, was difficult to decontaminate, and that prevention was the key word, describing aflatoxins as noiseless killers that undermined human health and stunt the growth of children.
“But they are not often visible on the corn when purchased, once the maize is infected, nothing can be done to remove the toxins as they are very stable compounds even at high temperatures making the maize unwholesome.”
Mr Anyebuno said the MOFA should provide mechanical driers to ensure quick and effective drying, especially during the rainy season, whilst the Directorate of Agricultural Extension Services MOFA should increase education of farmers by Agricultural Extension Agents (AEAs) on best cultural practices to minimize on-field contamination among smallholder farmers.
Based on the issues identified by the Project, Mr Anyebuno gave some policy recommendations, which included that, the districts directorates of Agriculture should collaborate with Grain West Africa (GWA) and other private sector organisations to provide storage infrastructure with the requisite conditions to prevent contamination and eliminate or reduce physical damage to grains during shelling.
He explained that it was the GWA that has the capacity to purchase, store and sell commercial quality maize from Ghanaian farmers and that they should provide innovative storage management of grains from the local market with the utilization of the Silo bag Technology.
He recommended that the Grains Development Board in collaboration with the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) and the Ghana Grains Council should institute and enforce a grading system to provide premium pricing for good quality maize.
The Government of Ghana, through the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, should also increase funding to the Food Research Institute to support research to control aflatoxin contamination in Ghana.
He advised farmers to manually sort out all discoloured, damaged, immature, and shriveled grains to prevent the contamination if not reduce the levels of aflatoxins in maize grains.
ECASARD and FRI in partnership with SEND-GHANA are currently working with farmers to reduce aflatoxins in maize to make it more marketable. The Project partners have also translated existing research and studies on the prevention of aflatoxins in maize into easily understandable community education materials that are being used to train smallholder farmers.
Researchers have engaged directly with farmers and are providing advice and support in the Techiman Municipality and the surrounding operational districts of ECASARD.