Up to 124,486 bags of maize held by the State in the Strategic Food Reserve (SFR) are contaminated with aflatoxin at a time when the country is contemplating import of the grain to plug a biting shortfall.
The Ministry of Agriculture has in a report tabled in Parliament revealed that more than half of the contaminated maize is to be destroyed through incineration. The balance is to be used in processing of animal feeds. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), large doses of aflatoxin leads to acute poisoning (aflatoxicosis) that can be life-threatening, usually through damage to the liver.
Long-term or chronic exposure to aflatoxins has several health consequences and may affect all organ systems, especially the liver and kidneys. It can also cause liver cancer.
The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), which stores the strategic food reserves (SFR), early last month said maize worth Sh9.2 billion was at risk of going to waste after the cash-strapped State agency ran out of funds to light storage silos and carry out fumigation. The cash-strapped NCPB said its employees had gone without salaries for two months, paralysing essential services.
Kenya Power had also disconnected electricity connection over pending bills.
The SFR board is yet to make a decision on whether to approve the destruction of the poisonous maize despite recommendations by an inter-agency team that the grain should be disposed through incineration with supervision of the directorate of public health.
The report, tabled before the Senate committee on Agriculture, shows that about half of the maize with harmful aflatoxin levels (more than 20 parts per billion against the East African Community standard of 10 parts per billion) is being held in Machakos and Nakuru depots.
Other stocks with aflatoxin levels of below 20ppb are being held in Nairobi, Meru, Migori, Lugari and Isiolo NCPB depots.
“Maize with total aflatoxin levels of more than 20ppb be disposed through incineration in a kiln preferably Bamburi Cement factory which can attain temperatures of more than 2,000 degrees centigrade required for denaturing the aflatoxin,” the report recommends.
The government last week announced that it will open a window for duty-free import of 12.5 million bags of maize to meet a shortfall that has seen shelf prices hit Sh125 for a two-kg packet of flour. Ten million bags out of the 12.5 million earmarked for importation will be white maize for household consumption while 2.5 million will be yellow maize for processing of animal feeds. The contaminated maize report shows that the Machakos depot is holding 10,710 bags of the grain with the highest aflatoxin levels of 28.8 ppb followed by Nakuru depot where 54,597 bags with 28.6ppb levels.
Isiolo has 11,663 bags that are contaminated, Meru (14,460), Lugari (26,264), Nairobi (5,427) and Migori (1,504). The contamination levels range between 13.6ppb to 28.8ppb. Agriculture Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri says the Ministry constituted an inter-agency committee on food safety and standards with members from National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis), Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) and Ministry of Health to carry out sampling and subsequent laboratory analysis for aflatoxin contamination.
“The collected maize samples were subject to laboratory analysis and the results showed that a total of 6,231.25 MT in seven depots had aflatoxin levels of more than 10 ppb,” Mr Kiunjuri said, adding that two rounds of sampling were carried out in November 2018 and January 18, 2019.
He said the committee, led by the ministry of Health visited the seven depots from March 3 and 7 to isolate and officially seize the maize contaminated with aflatoxin as required by the law.
Mr Kiunjuri, in a brief presented to MPs by Andrew Tuimur, the Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) told said the committee had made a number of recommendations pursuant to the East African Community (EAC) Policy Brief No.8 of 2018.