By Bernard Lugongo
Aflatoxin, a major food poisoning fungal infestation that claims hundreds of Tanzanian lives may soon cease to be a major threat following new breakthroughs as the country’s scientists finalize on-farm tests aimed at controlling its spread.
The toxic compounds produced by the green mold fungus, which can cause liver damage and cancer, occasions losses of up to 550bn/- annually, and kills at least 3,000 people within that period.
According to a report released last year titled, “Economic Assessment for Aflatoxin Contamination and Control in Tanzania”, food poisoning from the fungal infestation was prevalent across the country, and that over 3,300 people are diagnosed every year with liver cancer that is linked to aflatoxin.
About 95 per cent of them die. But yesterday, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) said it would work in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, livestock and Fisheries, and that such joint efforts were at their “final stages of testing the product, known as ‘Aflasafe'” which they invented over the last two years.
IITA’s head of advocacy and research mobilization, Dr Regina Kapinga, said yesterday that they expect to finish the trials by December this year, from where they would embark on procedures to get the product registered for use by farmers.
The product which is produced in IITA’s laboratories in Dar es Salaam, is being tested in the regions of Manyara, Singida, and Dodoma, among others.
“We now have technology to combat its major effects in our staples such as maize and groundnuts,” she said in Dar es Salaam at a brief ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the institute, an event which went together with thanking donors for their support.
She highlighted that the institute was fund-raising for $700,000 (about 1.5bn/-) from donors to establish a large plant for Aflasafe production within the country – soon after the current trials, adding that the Institute had since secured land at Kwembe area in Dar es Salaam where the plant would sit.
However, she cautioned that since the IITA was not a commercial entity, it would not itself engage in producing and selling the product but rather make the plant available for the private sector to learn and venture into investing in Aflasafe production commercially.
“If we get the plant working, it will not only save Tanzania but also other neighbouring countries,” she said. Acting Director of Research and De
velopment at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Mr Hussein Mansoor, said the product would not just safeguard people’s health but also enable them undertake commercial farming.
He said the experts of the ministry and those from the IITA were closely working together in developing products that would ultimately improve agricultural production in the country.
To date, Tanzanian scientists have so far discovered 18 disease-resistant cassava varieties for the coastal lands and central semi-arid zones.
Credit: Tanzania Daily News