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Aflatoxins are naturally occurring poisonous substances produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus. These fungi produce several types of aflatoxins (B1, B2, G1, and G2), of which B1 is internationally recognized as one of the most toxic and carcinogenic substances found in nature (Makun et al., 2012). Aflatoxins can contaminate several important staple crops e.g. maize, sorghum, millet, rice, oilseeds, spices, groundnuts, tree nuts, and cassava (Strosnider et al., 2006). In Tanzania, these foods are particularly vulnerable to aflatoxin contamination as the country lies within a geographical belt with ideal environmental conditions for the aflatoxin producing fungi.

Aflatoxin contamination can affect the entire supply chain for susceptible crops. Lack of control measures can directly affect the availability of aflatoxin-free crop to households both for their own consumption and for sale to the consuming public. The sum total of action and inaction can impact all four pillars of food security: availability of food, access to food (by affecting incomes), utilization of food (by affecting what households consume), and stability (in terms of continuity of safe food supply as well as associated price determination) (Abt Associates, 2012).

Aflatoxin is transmitted to livestock through exposed feed, which can in turn contaminate milk, poultry, farmed fish, and other animal products. Given that Aspergillus fungi originate in the soil, the risk of aflatoxin contamination begins at planting, and can be worsened later through inappropriate harvesting, handling, storage, processing, and transport practices. Contamination during crop development and after harvest depends on environmental conditions that favor fungal growth and is aggravated by pest damage and drought conditions that stress the crop making it highly susceptible.

High concentrations of aflatoxins in food or feed cause severe illness and can lead to immediate death. In humans, chronic exposure to lower levels of the toxin leads to immune deficiency, childhood stunting, low birth weight babies, and increased rates of liver disease and cancer (Wu et al. 2011). It also compromises health and production among livestock (IITA 2015). Given that aflatoxin is invisible, tasteless, and odorless, it is difficult to detect.

Apart from health, Aflatoxin contamination also adversely affects the agricultural and trade sectors. Rejection of export shipments, increased inspection and sampling rates, as well as curtailed export rights of countries due to perceived chronic contamination of susceptible products affect trade and cause loss of revenues. Economic losses to producers and traders can also occur in the domestic market if either consumer awareness about the problem rises, leaders in marketing channels begin to pay more attention, or regulations are tightened or more strictly enforced. Thus, aflatoxin contamination can adversely affect both individual livelihoods and agricultural sector output (Abt Associates, 2012).

Aflatoxins disproportionately affect women and the poor. It is more unlikely for poor households to sell or discard contaminated food than richer households. Women in remote rural settings are less likely to have access to information and resources for aflatoxin control and mitigation. But even where such resources are available, lack of decision-making power with women may inhibit adoption of mitigation strategies.

According to Abt Associates (2012), prevalence data generated by the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority (TFDA), Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) indicated high prevalence of aflatoxin B1 in maize samples in Eastern (Morogoro) and Western (Shinyanga) zones. Forty three percent (43%) and 40% of the tested samples in the two zones had average aflatoxin contamination levels of 50 ppb and 28ppb, respectively. These levels are well above the acceptable level of 5 ppb.     

The groundnut samples had more limited geographical coverage. Percentages of samples from the Northern, Southern (Mtwara), and Western zones with aflatoxin B1 contamination above 5 ppb were 20%, 20%, and 8%, respectively, with mean contamination at 20 ppb, 18 ppb, and 20 ppb. These data suggest that aflatoxin contamination is a major concern only in the Eastern and Western zones. However, prevalence testing is needed in other areas where data are not currently available to establish a fuller picture for the country.

 The Aflasafe Technology Transfer and Commercialization initiative (ATTC), led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has given rise to a vibrant team of private-sector partners across Africa who have made significant investments in producing and commercializing Aflasafe®, a research product from IITA and partners whose pre-harvest application enables crop production with little – or no – aflatoxin, while providing postharvest protection too.

Fig 1: Regions with highest maize and groundnut production, and high prevalence of aflatoxin (Source: Dalberg)

Improving food safety and quality standards has become an absolute precondition for African agriculture to be competitive in the global food market. And yet, aflatoxin contamination continues to be amongst the critical food safety threats facing African countries, with enormous economic and health impacts. Today, there are proven solutions that can contribute to control aflatoxin contamination.

Tanzania Initiative for Preventing Aflatoxin Contamination (TANIPAC) is the US$35.32 million contribution to the agricultural sector growth, with a focus on preventing aflatoxin prevalence in Tanzania. Tanzania is a leading producer of maize and groundnuts in the East African region, accounting for 2% of world production. They are the major staple food, and it is estimated that maize contributes to around 35% of the average daily calorie intake, making up nearly half of dietary requirements. More than half of Tanzanians live in the rural areas and depend on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods. However, these crops are highly susceptible to fungal infestation and aflatoxin contamination which affects the health of consumers – aflatoxin is a known carcinogens and the leading cause of liver disease and liver cancer in Tanzania – and reduces the country‘s export earning potential. The objective of the Tanzania Initiative for Preventing Aflatoxin Contamination (TANIPAC) project is to minimize aflatoxin occurrence in the food system through an integrated approach in the maize and groundnuts value chains with the overall impact of improving food safety and food security, which will ultimately improve the health and nutrition of the communities, improve agricultural productivity, and boost trade. Through the infrastructure development component, TANIPAC rehabilitates the Bio-control Unit, establishes a postharvest center of excellence for grains, establishes a central agriculture reference laboratory for enabling mycotoxin control along the food production and supply chain, and constructs and equips two warehouses in Zanzibar and 12 on the Tanzanian mainland. The project also carries out public awareness and education on the subject of food safety, nutrition, and aflatoxin mitigation. The private sector’s role in monitoring and quality control at all segments of the value chains is important. The project establishes partnerships with commercial buyers to support advocacy and disseminate new technology on both mainland and Zanzibar. The project expects to benefit about 60,000 farmers in five regions of Tanzania’s mainland and two districts on Zanzibar. (pdf file attached)

A to Z has been given this crucial role of production and distribution on AgroZ Aflasafe TZ01 in Tanzania with effect from mid-2019. The manufacturing plant in Arusha is ready in place and will be commissioned soon. The scale-up of AgroZ Aflasafe TZ01 has already begun in Tanzania from early 2020 with assistance of product from the IITA’s Dar-es-Salaam pilot production plant.