Health alert! Aflatoxin is a poison that contaminates a wide range of food crops as they grow. It persists after harvest, finding its way into humans through the food we eat, including animal products from livestock that have eaten contaminated feed.

Aflatoxin causes liver cancer, compromises immunity, stunts growth in children and kills chickens through contaminated feed.

Aflatoxin poisoning also contaminates our food chain through animal products and mother-to-baby transmission. Young children continue to ingest the substance through bottle and breast milk, and weaning on maize- or groundnut-based diets. Aflatoxin is unforgiving and cumulative, piling up in our bodies as we continue to eat and drink contaminated foods.

So dire is the problem that in some countries, studies show that nearly all (more than 95%) of the children under five have aflatoxin in their body, indicating high exposure even at this early age.

Therefore we should all care about this because whether we are food manufacturers, buyers, sellers or processors, ultimately, we are all food consumers.

Trade loss! The toxicity of aflatoxins to humans and animals has resulted in stringent regulatory controls worldwide. Groundnut and maize exports are often barred from lucrative western markets because they exceed the allowed maximum of aflatoxin levels.

Aflatoxin contamination is also a growing impediment to expanding intra-Africa maize and groundnut markets. On the global scene, groundnut exports from Nigeria and Senegal have been progressively hard-hit.

Comparing 1970 and 2010, exports in metric tonnes fell from a high of 291,000 and 51,450 respectively for both countries, plunging to a mere 180 and 13,806 tonnes. According to a World Bank study, reducing aflatoxin contamination would add USD 281 million annually to Senegal’s groundnut exports alone.

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Source: IITA