[Column] Forster Boateng: Ghana intensifies bid for eradication of aflatoxin-related losses from agricultural value chains
In sub-Saharan Africa, grains, tubers, nuts and oilseeds are key food items, representing the dietary basis for most of the population.
In Ghana, for instance, a country that predominantly depends on smallholder farming to feed its 29.89 million people population, the per capita consumption of maize alone is estimated at about 45 kg per year (Provisional 2018-2019 Food Balance Sheet).
Yet even as starches and oils represent the nutritional foundation for the country located in the West Coast of Africa, the propensity of aflatoxin contamination on crop products has erected a huge bump along the path to healthy food consumption and trade.
Aflatoxins are naturally occurring harmful toxins produced by the fungi Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. Unfortunately, most of the foods susceptible to aflatoxin contamination are staples such as maize and groundnuts, which are largely consumed by both humans and animals.
The mould is ferocious in attack, occurring at any stage of the supply chain, from pre-production to post-harvesting, marketing and distribution thus posing a significant threat to both human and animal health
Post-harvest losses, including aflatoxin contamination, account for about 319,000 tonnes or 18% of the country’s annual maize production, according to a recent study by Dr Bruno Tran, an expert in post-harvest losses management.
The damage is exacerbated by inadequate number of silos and dry warehousing facilities, leaving most farmers to store their produce in poorly shielded and ventilated barns and cribs. In addition, processing as a means of conserving output is underdeveloped in the country, with the preferred traditional methods being grossly inefficient in managing the large quantities of harvests.
And while the above factors mainly lean on infrastructure, the role of food regulatory bodies cannot be understated. Inadequate awareness, testing and certification processes have crippled the ability of the country’s farming population to maintain a quality of produce that is acceptable to both local processors and international buyers.
As a result, it is not uncommon for cash strapped farmers to sell the best items from their harvests, leaving the low quality and contaminated produce for their own consumption.
But prospects for the country’s farmers appear great with the government stepping up to develop systems that will address the storage and processing concerns plaguing the agricultural sector.
In 2010, Ghana established the National Food Buffer Stock Company (NAFCO) with the aim of reducing post-harvest losses, ensuring price stability and establishing emergency grain reserves.
The agency has been instrumental in the administration of food production and usage chains, substantially reducing the overreliance on food imports for products such as rice, in favour of local production.
But for more impact, especially in post-harvest loss management, the GoG recently inaugurated a National Steering Committee for Aflatoxin Control drawing the indulgence of experts in the sector led by the Alliance for Green Revolution.
The Committee, which is being coordinated by the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute (CSIR-STEPRI) and funded by AGRA, will, among other duties, assist in the development of the National Policy and Technical Regulation for Aflatoxin Control.
The Committee is further tasked with the development of the national policy and technical regulation for aflatoxin, spearheading awareness creation on aflatoxins among policy makers and relevant stakeholders as well as ensuring the implementation of the national policy and technical regulation for aflatoxin control.
In addition, The National Aflatoxin Sensitization and Management (NASAM) project which is currently being implemented by the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) and IITA (Aflasafe) is moving to implement targeted interventions to inform, educate, and engage the private and the public sector on the health and economic risks posed by aflatoxin contamination.
The overall goal of the project is to contribute to food safety and security by improving knowledge about aflatoxins, its impacts and management solutions.
Already, the project is training and linking farmers to the Agrodealer distribution networks and promoting the use of AFLASAFE (all-natural and environmentally safe products) among farmers in Ghana. In the north, 200 agro-input dealers have gone through the training, arguably the biggest partners group that has benefitted from the training so far.
The results have been encouraging. The trained agro-input dealers are evidently now able to offer better services to farmers not only in the provision of the Aflasafe and information on aflatoxin management, but they are now instrumental in the dissemination of information on crop production and improved business management skills. Under this project, approximately 33,000 farmers have been armed with information on aflatoxin control and management.
With just 4 kilos of Aflasafe, a farmer can effectively protect an entire acre of maize, groundnuts or soybean, and thereby meet the stringent international and domestic aflatoxin standards. Aflasafe is now available in Ghana, retailing at GH¢ 7 per kilo. The Environmental Protection Agency of Ghana has approved the use of Aflasafe GH02, which was officially launched in June 2018, to protect the country’s maize, groundnuts, and sorghum from aflatoxin.
The ultimate goal is to minimize aflatoxin contamination from Ghana’s food production processes. On this basis, combined efforts are now geared towards high quality produce from the Ghanaian fields. Further, the stakeholders are working on the harmonisation of local and regional policies, aligning them with those set by international trading partners such as the European Union allowing for better market penetration for Ghana’s agricultural products, while boosting the chances for economic expansion through food trade.