Malawi is losing an estimated $11 million (about K8 billion) annually due to availability of aflatoxins found in some grains and legumes including groundnuts and maize, Business News has learnt.
Aflatoxin is poison produced by a fungus called Aspergillus flavus which resides in the soil and dead decaying matter in the field.
Research indicates that aflatoxin contaminates over 30 percent of Malawi’s groundnuts leading to some established buyers from America and Europe to shun Malawi’s groundnuts.
In an interview last week, Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (Paca) country officer Mphatso Dakamau said Malawi was once one of the leading exporters of groundnuts in the region but lost its market share in the early 1990s due to the availability of aflatoxins in groundnuts.
“Aflatoxins are very dangerous because they cannot only damage the body but can also lead to farmers or even countries to remain in poverty. For example, Malawi lost a huge groundnuts market in Europe because of the same aflatoxins. Aflatoxins also causes stunted growth in children and can lead to death if consumed in excess. In Tanzania, about 19 people died due to high consumption of aflatoxins from maize,” he said.
Deputy director of trade Charity Musonzo said there is light at the end of the tunnel for Malawi because the country will from next year start producing a bio control product, known as aflasafe, which is currently on trials in some districts.
Paca is an African Union initiative currently operating in six African countries of Senegal, Nigeria, Gambia, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi.
Aflasafe can reduce Aflatoxin concentration by 60 to 96 percent in maize at harvest and in storage. The beneficial effect of aflasafe is carried over from one season to the next and it is safe.
“Through the Malawi Programme for Aflatoxin Control [Mapac], we are working with other stakeholders like the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture [IITA] to make sure that aflasafe is produced in the country so that our farmers benefit,” said Musonzo.
Currently Aflasafe is being imported from Kenya and Nigeria.
IITA country representative Arega Alene said Malawi is making good progress in the usage of Aflasafe and results from the trials the institution has conducted over the past two years are impressive.
“In maize, there is a reduction of Aflatoxin of between 70 to 80 percent while in groundnuts, it is between 90 to 98 percent. There are investors who are willing to open an Aflasafe producing facility here and it will make its availability easy. We are hopeful that Malawi will register and commercialise Aflasafe because that is when its groundnuts and maize will be easily exported,” said Alene.
The IITA and its partners in Malawi are implementing Feed the Future Malawi Improved Seed Systems and Technologies project for improving crop quality, income and nutritional health of farmer families.