How dearth of knowledge in mycotoxins causes food poisoning

Despite the danger that high levels of mycotoxin content in food portend for human and animal health, most farmers and traders in Nigeria know little or nothing about it.

This widespread dearth of knowledge of mycotoxins by farmers has continued to fuel the rise of toxin levels in foods, which is dangerous to human health and responsible for multi-billion naira losses suffered in non-oil exports due to rejection of agro commodities.

Mycotoxin has been found to account for a high percentage of all liver and cancer cases globally, making it understandable that nations with more knowledge do not allow products containing it.

“I never knew the molds on groundnuts are dangerous to human health and I have not heard about aflatoxins before,” Salisus Mohammed a groundnut farmer in Bindawa Local Government in Kastina told BusinessDay.

Mycotoxins are naturally occurring toxins produced by certain fungi and molds that are threats to food and feeds for human and animal consumption respectively, causing long-term poisoning.

They are produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus

There are five groups of mycotoxins which are; aflatoxins, ochratoxins, fumonisins, deoxynivalenol/nivalenol, and zearalenone.

Mycotoxins, which are a natural occurrence, can be reduced to the barest minimum with farmers’ education and training on good agricultural practices and storage.

According to experts, farmers’ education on the dangers of the fungi, public awareness, appropriate infrastructural facilities, and aflasafe intervention will help prevent and control aflatoxin contamination.

“Aflatoxins have harmful effects on humans and animals. They are very cancerous and suppress the human immune system,” Abiodun obaleye, research supervisor, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) said during a media tour.

“The African environment favours the development of the poisonous compound. It is found all across Africa,” Obaleye explained.

According to the United States National Cancer Institute, aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi that are found in crops such as groundnut, maize, cottonseed, sesame, and tree nuts among others.

It is estimated that Nigeria loses up to N68 billion annually in lost exports because agricultural commodities such as groundnuts contain aflatoxin levels unacceptable for European and other markets.

In 2017, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) said that a total of 24 food products were rejected by the European Union (EU) because of high levels of poisonous chemical compounds. Groundnut was among the food products rejected because of the high presence of aflatoxin.

“Aflatoxin in our agricultural products and their attendant implications on the safety of foods and feeds, trade, and health cannot be over-emphasised,” Folasade Bosede Oluwabamiwo, president, Mycotoxicology Society of Nigeria (MSN) said at the association’s 2017 annual conference in Lagos.

“Food and feeds sold in our open markets are neither regulated nor traceable and this has made the zero rejection program of the Federal Government an uphill task,” she added.

Isaac Ogara, a lecturer at the Department of Agronomy, Nasarawa State University noted that the aflatoxin content in crops can be reduced by mainstreaming control strategies in the country’s farming systems along the value chain.

“Farmers need to have the awareness that there are deadly chemical substances that occur naturally without their knowing. One of the strategies that farmers can protect their crops from these toxins is to harvest their crops early. Harvesting early help to reduce the incidence of aflatoxin,” Ogara said.

He explained further that farmers must also ensure that they carry out good farming practices by ensuring that they carry out all the cultivation practices according to recommendations and dry their crops properly. Crops must be properly dried with moisture content of about 12-14 percent.

He also stated that the use of Neem tree and Jatropha extracts helps to reduce levels of toxins in foods. He noted that the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has developed a product called aflasafe, which farmers can adopt to reduce the occurrence of toxicogenic fungi.


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