KNA For years, grain millers in Nakuru have raised concerns about high levels of cancer-causing aflatoxin in maize being delivered to their premises for processing.
There have also been worries that maize found with aflatoxin levels that are higher than the allowable 10 parts per billion has been finding its way into the market through other channels.
However, there is hope of reversing this following the launch of a special facility at Egerton University’s Njoro Main Campus, known as the “Safe Foods Reference Laboratory (SAF-LAB)”
According to the institution’s Acting Vice Chancellor Professor Isaac Kibwage, farmers and millers countrywide previously relied on six laboratories at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) storage facilities at Nairobi, Meru, Machakos, in Eldoret, Kitale and Nakuru to test for aflatoxin in cereals.
“Testing services are now available at our modern Safe Foods Reference Laboratory to farmers, traders, millers and institutions in the grains and pulses value chain. The public can also have their produce tested here at very affordable rates. This will ascertain and assure the value chain actors of the quality of the grains they handle. We want to ensure the Kenyan consumer has access to clean and safe food,” Kibwage said.
The Acting Vice Chancellor says scientists and researchers at the facility will collaborate with manufacturers of animal feeds in working towards enabling small holder farmers to have access to high quality and safe animal feeds.
“Low yields are attributed to substandard feeds. Fees charged by some state agencies and private laboratories for every test conducted is prohibitive for small-scale makers of animal feeds. This has made small-scale manufacturers of livestock feed to side-step quality checks due to high service costs leading to low milk, meat and poultry output. Our laboratory will guarantee affordable costs, reliability of results and adequate engagement with all stakeholders,” Kibwage said.
The facility is designed to enhance the horticultural industry in Kenya to meet standards for the export market as farmers will be in a position to have their products tested for the detection of pesticides and herbicides in vegetables, fruits, and flowers.
“Food exports provide significant foreign income that contributes to the economic development of Kenya, and improves the standards of living of citizens. However, access to food export markets, particularly the most lucrative markets, depends on our capacity to meet the regulatory requirements of the importing countries.
In order to build long-term relationships with importers, this laboratory will supplement other state agencies in contributing to building the trust and confidence of Kenya’s trading partners in our food control system,” the Acting Vice Chancellor notes.
It is also fitted with an elaborate and full-fledged food-borne illnesses surveillance system designed to accurately report occurrences of the disease as well as the potential hazards in the food supply chain.
Kibwage observes that the surveillance system will be critical in developing an effective national strategy to reduce food-borne disease and to increase the political will among national policy makers to give higher priority and the necessary resources to food safety programs.
“Specialists at the laboratory are stepping up food safety through strengthening the capacity of aquaculture, horticulture and dairy value chain actors on sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards. They are inspiring action to help prevent, detect and manage food borne risks.
“Consumption of unsafe food has been linked to health concerns like food poisoning or intoxication, allergic reactions, stunted growth in children, diseases related to heart and cancer among others,” Kibwage points out.
He states that experts attached to the facility will train farmers on proper agricultural practices that preserve quality of food from production, handling, processing, preparation and marketing to prevent contamination and food-borne illnesses.
“According to the World Health Organization (WHO) approximately 91 million people in Africa fall ill annually from consuming contaminated food and 137,000 die as a result.
“The global health agency stresses the need to adapt food control systems to meet changing needs for better protection of public health,” he notes.
The laboratory is also kitted with a well-equipped water-testing unit that will be available for public water utilities and private water vendors to ensure that drinking water that gets to the consumers is not only of good quality, but it is also safe for consumption.
“Water vending is currently done by formal and informal entities in the country. Informal suppliers are, however, seen posing the biggest challenge as they tend to supply both treated and untreated water. The facility will help relevant authorities to tell the source of water, the cleanliness of bowsers, quality of the commodity and handling until it’s delivered to consumers. This will enable state agencies to hold water service providers accountable for any lapses,” Kibwage elaborates.
The Acting Vice Chancellor is optimistic that the Safe Foods Reference Laboratory will significantly enhance the country’s capacity to monitor and evaluate the level of compliance of different fortified food products to the national standards.
“The initiative will combine the best practices on food fortification with food safety aspects to ensure that consumers get the recommended amounts of micronutrients in a safe way. Food and nutritional security is a subject of national and global development as captured in the government’s four priority areas; Africa Agenda 2063, and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” he offers.
SAF-LAB facility is further hosting researchers who are conducting trials in production of 100 percent organic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides in a venture aimed at helping farmers increase yields while providing safe foods.
“Most farmers are using some insecticides, herbicides and pesticides known to contain elements deemed unsafe to humans as well as animals while most herbicides contain glyphosate as the active ingredient which has been cited as a probable carcinogenic to humans.
“Unregulated and excessive use of inorganic fertilizers and other agrochemicals have led to degradation of land and consequently, affected quality of food produced,” he notes.
Kibwage concludes by affirming that the laboratory will also be important in boosting capacity of regulatory authorities such as Kenya Bureau of Standards, Pest Control Products Board, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives and the Government Chemist in discharging their mandate