African countries suffer staggering losses each year due to aflatoxins

Aflatoxin is dangerous to both humans and animals, and as technology races to subdue the threat it poses, some parts of the world are still struggling. Millions of people throughout Africa are exposed to unsafe amounts of the mycotoxin every year.

The Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) has put out the numbers: $670 million is lost each year to aflatoxin contamination, with countless lives lost to liver cancer — at least 5,000 yearly in Nigeria alone.

“Liver cancer is not a treatable ailment,” said Nigerian Country Officer Stella Denloye. “These are the major issues that underline the urgent need for Nigeria to tackle aflatoxin headlong because of its huge effects on the country’s health and economy.”

With contamination rates so high, many African countries can’t export as many food products, especially the major crops of maize and peanuts, as they need to. Some crops may be contaminated with low enough levels that they can be used for animal feed, but much of it ends up destroyed.

Before the risks of aflatoxin were fully understood, in the 1960s, Africa had 77% of the global peanut export market, reports African Business. Today, that number is just 4%, due to standards in the developed world that some African countries don’t have the means to meet.

The consequences of this are far-reaching. When small-scale farmers struggle to earn enough money, they can’t feed back into the industry, with no investments being made into seed, tool and fertilizer markets. Animals that consume highly contaminated feed are less productive in terms of milk and eggs, or simply become too sick to even produce at all.

Keeping people from consuming contaminated foods is another challenge. Public awareness is not the strongest in some areas, and farmers have limited resources. Many can’t access the technology to track and control aflatoxins.

Wait, what are aflatoxins, again?

Aflatoxin is a mycotoxin — a toxin produced by mold or fungus growing on crops. When contaminated foods are consumed, the eater, be they human or animal, can face a number of health problems. Most serious among them is acute liver cirrhosis and an increased risk of liver cancer. People exposed to aflatoxin regularly also deal with a weaker immune system and in young children, stunted growth.

According to PACA, 40% of liver cancer cases on the African continent can be blamed on aflatoxin. In Mozambique especially, called an “aflatoxin hotspot,” liver cancer rates are reportedly 60 times higher than in countries like the United States.

Tackling the problem

PACA is made up of 50 organizations, from 54 countries. The group outlines its mission as an effort to “support agricultural development, safeguard consumer health and facilitate trade by catalyzing, coordinating and increasing effective aflatoxin control along agricultural value chains in Africa.” In short: to protect humans, livestock and crops from aflatoxin.

To this end, PACA acts as a coordinator and leader to helping countries across the continent be more informed and better armed against the deadly mycotoxin in the following ways:

  • Spreads public awareness of aflatoxin
  • Advocates for aflatoxin-fighting policies and legislation
  • Supports investment and mobilization of resources to fight aflatoxin
  • Promotes research and technology for better control of aflatoxin

Read more about PACA’s activities at its website by clicking here.

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