Experts advise on taming cancer from grain moulds

What you need to know:

  • Background. The advice comes ahead of the national conference on control of aflatoxins.

KAMPALA. The ministry of Agriculture and Makerere University have warned of rising cases of crops being contaminated with poisonous fungi or moulds.
The two institutions also issued guidelines on handling crops, and warned that dangerous moulds, especially on cereals and nuts, risk exposing nearly 3,000 Ugandans to liver cancer monthly.
The officials issued the alarm yesterday at the government’s media centre in Kampala ahead of the national conference on control of aflatoxins.
The meeting, also to be addressed by President Museveni, opens in Kampala on October 31 and will attract 200 researchers, government officials, donors and civil society organisations.
“Since the grains such as maize are also used to make animal and fish feeds, all these get infected. Animals that eat feeds contaminated with aflatoxins produce low quality meat and milk,” Agriculture minister Vincent Ssempijja said.
He said no grains should be dried on bare ground and warned that pre-mature or late harvesting of grains should also not be allowed. He advised that grains should only be kept in dry places and airtight containers.
Mr Ssempijja also advised that farmers and traders should use only clean containers to keep or transport grains.
He said the ministry will embark on a massive public campaign to warn of the dangers of aflatoxins and encourage them to eat more vegetables to help detoxify the body.
Cereals such as maize, millet, sorghum, ground nuts, rice potatoes and cassava chips are some of the country’s staple foods.
Prof Archileo Kaaya, the head of Makerere’s Department of Food and Technology, had earlier in the year told this newspaper that research conducted on grains between 2,000 to date found that 60 per cent of the maize, groundnuts, soya beans and sorghum sold on the market have got high levels of aflatoxins that produce cancer.
Yesterday, he said a long-term measure to solve aflatoxins is in high gear. Prof Kaaya said the toxins are a big threat to children because they get exposed to it when still in the womb as mothers feed on mould-contaminated foods.
“The National Agriculture Research Organisation (Naro) has managed to isolate particular strains of fungi that do not cause aflatoxins and we want to try to multiply them and see if we can give them to farmers,” Prof Kaaya said.
“Because of the high exposure of Ugandans to hepatitis B, and the same people to aflatoxins, the two enhance each other and cause liver cancer. We estimate these cases to be as high as 3,000 per month,” he added.
The Agriculture ministry also said Kenya had early in the year rejected 600,000 metric tonnes of maize from Uganda over fears of aflatoxins.
“When we conducted the economic impact of aflatoxins in this country, we found out that Uganda loses up to $78m (about Shs292.7 billion) over failure to export maize alone,” Prof Kaaya said.