FRI urges Agric Ministry to intensify education on farming practices
The Food Research Institute (FRI)) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has called on the Ministry of Food and Agricultural (MOFA) to increase education of farmers on best practices to minimize on-field contamination of aflatoxins.
This should be done through the agricultural extension agents of the directorate of Agricultural Extension Services, as a means of fighting to reduce the upsurge of aflatoxin in maize and grains in the country.
Again, MOFA, Grains Development Board and the Ministry of Health should as a matter of utmost importance recognize the exposure to aflatoxins as a major public health issue since it goes beyond just agricultural issue.
Mr Stephen Nketia, Scientific Information Manager-Business Development Officer of FRI, who made the call, said these organizations should also incorporate prevention and control of exposure to aflatoxins in health, agricultural and social development policies and provide scientific advice for its prevention in Ghana.
He was speaking at the National Policy Dialogue here in Accra, jointly organised by the Eumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (ECASARD) and SEND-GHANA, advocacy NGO’s for farmers, with funding from the Southern African Trust.
The National Policy Dialogue was aimed at “Reducing Aflatoxins in Maize to Improve Incomes of Smallholder Farmers in Ghana,” and the meeting was held for farmers and policy makers of the Techiman Municipality.
He explained that these toxins are potent causes of cancer and suppress the immune system, causing humans and animals to be more susceptible to diseases, and that, they are chemical compounds, which have been found to be toxic to humans and animals.”
Mr Nketia said aflatoxins were secondary metabolites produced by the fungi Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasitic, mostly found in maize, groundnuts, cassava, and yam chips.
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.
The 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.
“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.”
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.
Mr Nketia entreated MOFA to provide mechanical driers to ensure quick and effective drying, especially during the rainy season.
As part of the Policy Recommendations to address issues identified by the Project, it’s recommended that the districts directorates of Agriculture should collaborate with the 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.
Government through the Ministry of Environment Science, Technology and Innovations should also increase funding to the FRI to support the control of aflatoxin contamination in Ghana.
Mr. Samuel Ayourbi, Techiman Municipal Director, MOFA, who represented the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, acknowledged the fact that, aflatoxins had negative impact on agricultural produce such as maize, groundnuts, cassava and had introduced the Narrow Grip to aid farmers, in the absence of driers to dry their maize.
“I have taken notice of the policy recommendations; challenges identified in the project and will present it to government for the necessary actions to be taken to address them as soon as possible”.
Mr. Siapha Kamara, Chief Executive of SEND-Ghana, pledged SEND-Ghana’s continuous support in terms of giving sufficient training materials and education to support farmers in maize production communities to ensure the sustainability of the project.
Dr. King-David Amoah, Executive Director of ECARSAD, said “the fight against Aflatoxin was not a one-shot fight, but a consistent fight with the inclusion of all other Stakeholders along the value chain,” and called for the involvement of all and the intensification of public education about the aflatoxin menace and its management.