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Solving the aflatoxin problem in Africa requires a holistic approach

Published on
March 15, 2021

In Africa, contamination of food and feed with aflatoxin, a natural toxin, is a major problem. Much has already been mapped out on this subject, but possible solutions often focus on one facet or region and are therefore not always effective or useful in other regions.

This is evident from a literature study by Wageningen University & Research that was commissioned by the Partnership for Aflatoxin Prevention in Africa (PACA). The researchers propose a holistic approach to the aflatoxin problem, in which all aspects must be brought together.

Obstruction of growth and development of young children

Aflatoxins are a group of natural toxins that can be carcinogenic and seriously obstruct the growth and development of young children. They are formed by fungi during the cultivation and storage of foods and are found in peanuts, nuts, dried fruit and grains such as corn. This contamination is widespread in Africa and children are exposed to it at a very young age.

In addition to the health aspect, the aflatoxin also hinders the development of the agricultural sector and thus the promotion of employment and economic growth.

Data varies by country

The literature study by the Wageningen researchers shows that the negative effects of aflatoxin for Africa have already been clearly described and that various initiatives exist to tackle the problem. Yet a broad effective approach is lacking. This is because only a very limited number of African countries have a clear picture of the geographic distribution, the extent of the contamination, the impact on health, the economic consequences and the costs and effectiveness of the risk reduction measures for aflatoxin. Also, the available data on the natural toxins varies from country to country and farmers and traders are not always aware of the problem.

Cooperation

A holistic approach is necessary to properly understand and map all these different aspects. One of the recommendations in the literature study, coordinated by Wageningen Food Safety Research, concerns the collaboration between existing regional and pan-African networks and partnerships that work on education and development of skills in the field of (the prevention of) aflatoxin.