There is an urgent need to improve large-scale grain and produce storage in Africa to reduce food losses to protect consumers from the serious health consequences of high aflatoxin levels, experts have said.
Philippe Villers, the president of GrainPro, a US-based green “not-only-for-profit” company, said proper drying of grains and seeds, as well as safe storage, handling and distribution of food commodities, without using chemicals or pesticides is the future in grain production and marketing.
He was speaking ahead of the first Africa Strategic Grain Reserve conference to be held in Nairobi from June 14-15.
The conference will focus on providing safe storage solutions for national grain reserve agencies, while bringing together the ecosystem that supports them – producers such as smallholder farmers and coops, grain traders, government ministries, researchers, funders and international organisations.
Villers said: “Using the principles of Ultra Hermetic™ technology and modified atmospheres, GrainPro is providing leadership in the second green revolution.”
Africa loses up to 30 per cent of its grain production due to poor storage facilities and aflatoxin infestation. These losses that threaten food security on the continent forced the United Nations this year to set a target of halving food loss by 2030 as a key Sustainable Development Goal.
Anne Mbaabu, the head of markets and harvest management at AGRA, said post-harvest loss is “the most unanswered and ignored challenge” to food insecurity in Africa, with over $4 billion in lost value every year.
“Governments, co-ops and farmers need to have better access to appropriate storage facilities and new technologies to reduce these losses,” said Mbaabu.
One of the major food safety and storage issues to be addressed at the conference is the high prevalence of Aflatoxin found in maize and other staple commodities.
Aflatoxins are poisonous and cancer-causing moulds that can lead to stunting in children and severe health problems in adults. They are regularly found in improperly stored commodities such as maize, cassava, millet, rice, sorghum, and wheat. When contaminated grain is processed, aflatoxins enter the general food supply where they have been found in both pet and human foods.
“Aflatoxin contamination across food systems undermines the gains made in improving production systems in the developing world,” said Amare Ayalew, the programme manager of the African Union’s Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA).
“A major part of the solution to the aflatoxin challenge lies in adequate handling and storage of grains. Increased understanding of challenges and opportunities of grain reserves in the African context will go a long way in mitigating aflatoxin contamination in strategic crops,” Ayalew said.
“We believe that solving the problem of post-harvest losses and securing safe, long-term storage for grains will have a major positive impact on the financial lives of small holder farmers as well as the health of their communities and environment,” said Cynthia Ryan, director of the Schooner Africa Fund.
Willy Bett, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries is one of the key speakers at the conference. Others are Betty Kibaara of the Rockefeller Foundation, and Gerald Masila of the East Africa Grain Council. The summit is sponsored by the African Union’s Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa, GrainPro, the Schooner Africa Fund, Abt Associates, and AGCO/GSI.