Groundnut farmers to benefit from Sh 50 million food safety programme

Groundnut farmers from three counties are set to benefit from a Sh. 50 million European Union (EU) support programme, that will help them safeguard standards and food safety across the crop’s value chains, to enable the products be accepted in both local and international markets.

The farmers drawn from Homa Bay, Siaya and Busia counties, have been trained on good agronomical practices, post-harvest handling and storage techniques, that will help in reducing levels of mycotoxins contamination in groundnuts.

Through the multi-million EU- funded Market Access Upgrade Program (MARKUP), which is being implemented by United Nations Industrial Organization in collaboration with the Kenyan government and the private sector, the more than 300 farmers have also been trained on the type of groundnuts to be planted in their respective ecological zones in order to boost their output.

The knowledge management expert at MARK-UP, Christine Misiko, said documented food safety incidences in the groundnut value chain within the devolved units include mycotoxins, particularly aflatoxin, pesticides and microbial contamination.

These she said could be tackled using the right investments in the food systems, from production to consumption to guarantee the country’s foreign exchange earnings through quality exports of farm produce and value-added products.

“With the high pesticide residue and aflatoxin levels exceeding the recommended level of 10 parts per billion in a given grain, little of these products will access international markets such as the European Union”, Misiko noted.

The food scientist explained that about 80 to 90 percent of ailments such as non-communicable diseases or food borne diseases could be addressed through access to proper food nutrition and safe food which in turn help reduce expenditure in the health sector by empowering communities to produce clean and safe food.

Misiko noted that in the recent past processors of groundnuts have resorted to imports mainly from Malawi and Uganda due to high levels of aflatoxin in the local crop.

She, however, said they were inspiring action to help prevent, detect and manage food borne risks through training of master trainers of groundnut farmers from various state agencies on an integrated approach involving tapping into crop genetic resources, controlling insect damage, managing toxic fungi, and proper post-harvest handling to mitigate mycotoxin contamination.

Aflatoxin is naturally produced by fungi called Aspergillus flavus and Parasiticus Fungus, that commonly infects food crops, and could easily cause liver damage and cancer in humans if consumed.

In Kenya maize, ground nuts, wheat and milk are the main sources of aflatoxin exposure as highlighted by the International Livestock Research Institute.

Agriculture Food Authority (AFA)-Horticultural Crops Directorate Head of Regulation and Compliance Josephine Simiyu attributes high levels of chemical residues in crops to lack of proper information and knowledge among farmers saying some small scale farmers handle and apply pesticides without the use of appropriate personal protective equipment putting their health at risk.

She said there was need for creation of awareness on the safe use of pesticides and ensuring professionals have a greater role in the food chain in order to improve on safe use of agrochemicals.

Simiyu added that AFA was collaborating with relevant state agencies in leveraging technology and advanced detection and surveillance techniques that allow inspectors and other enforcers` capabilities for on-the-spot rapid testing, and real-time data transmission for swift actions to protect public health.

Simiyu put Kenya’s losses at Ksh1 billion annually due to food-related diseases and poor diet adding that Kenya is also banking on the establishment of mini-laboratories across the country as it steps up campaigns to boost food safety standards.

Some of the laboratories include the Kenya Bureau of Standards and Kenya Dairy Board which has also unveiled a laboratory in Nairobi to boost milk safety standards. Another laboratory that is being constructed at Pests Control Products Board’s headquarters in Nairobi is expected to conduct analysis on different aspects of conventional pesticides, botanical and bio-pesticides.

According to the World Health Organization, unsafe food containing bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances cause more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhea to cancer.

Globally, one in 10 people falls ill after consuming contaminated food and 420,000 die of food-related illnesses every year with children under five years carrying 40 per cent of the food-borne disease burden, accounting for 125,000 deaths.



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