Tanzania: Field Trials in Progress to Control Toxins in Food Crops

Researchers in Tanzania are conducting field trials in four regions on biological control of aflatoxins, namely Aflasafe, following a study in 2012, which showed high prevalence of the toxic compounds in maize and groundnuts in many parts of the country.

Aflatoxins has been linked to the recent outbreak of a strange disease in Chemba and Kondoa districts in Dodoma Region, which claimed the lives of over 10 people while dozens others were admitted to various hospitals after they reportedly consumed food contaminated with the toxins.

Speaking during a media briefing in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday, an officer in-charge of invasive pests and bio-control in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Ms Beatrice Pallangyo, mentioned Mtwara, Dodoma, Manyara and Morogoro as regions where the trials were being conducted. "Aflasafe has been used in the United States and a number of African countries; but we cannot use it in Tanzania until it passes through laid down procedures.

"We have standard procedures for production, importation and registration of bio-control agents; before approval they must undergo rigorous testing and the field trials are part of the analysis," the official explained.

The field trials are meant to check efficacy and safety of the new technology in minimising aflatoxins in the country and whether or not it has negative impact to human beings and the ecosystem, she further explained.

"At a later stage, we will involve experts from the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority (TFDA) and the Arusha based Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI) as well as other private institutions in the research," Ms Pallangyo stated.

The Aflasafe was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and modified for Africa by the International Institute of Tropical Research (IITA) and other partners.

A Senior Plant Pathologist for IITA-Eastern Africa, Dr George Mahuku, pointed out that the bio-control method uses native strains of A.flavus that do not produce aflatoxins but are able to out-compete and displace aflatoxins-producing strains and thus reducing contamination in crops.

According to a Research Plant Pathologist at USDAARS, Professor Peter Cotty, the Aflasafe reduces prevalence of aflatoxins in groundnuts and maize by between 80 and 99 per cent from farm to storage facilities. Aflatoxins are highly toxic chemicals produced mainly by fungi in several food crops, which are becoming a threat to achieve food security and reduce poverty in rural communities.

"The toxins cause cancer and liver diseases as well as suppressing the immune system and retarding the growth of children. "In cases of extreme poisoning, aflatoxins lead to rapid death for both human beings and livestock. Lactating mothers could as well pass on the poison to their toddlers," Prof Cotty, one of researchers who developed Aflasafe, noted.

Once approved and registered in Tanzania, the IITA laboratory in Dar es Salaam is capable of producing Aflasafe to treat 10,000 hectares per farming season. The technology is currently in use in Senegal,Nigeria, Kenya and Gambia while a number of other countries in the continent are in the process of approving the bio-control.

The Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ms Ummy Mwalimu, told the 'Daily News' in a telephone interview yesterday that initial laboratory tests have indicated that the mysterious disease in Dodoma was caused by aflatoxins.

"We are still waiting for additional laboratory results of samples we sent to the United States' Centre for Disease Control (CDC), my ministry will give more updates next Monday", Ms Mwalimu said.

She further explained that patients who had been quarantined at the Dodoma Regional Referral Hospital and Kondoa District Hospital have been discharged after it was proved that the illness is not contagious.

In a related development, Ms Mwalimu said the ministry had written to the Disaster Preparedness Department in the Prime Minister's Office to provide food supplies to affected people in the two districts since most of the food there was feared to be contaminated with the toxins.

Source: Tanzania Daily News