Scientists develop software to detect toxins in food

Prof Kabi said at the event that they have also developed a device that farmers and traders can use to scan and detect the levels of contaminants in soil, plants, fruits and food commodities. PHOTO | COURTESY

Makerere University scientists have developed software to protect consumers from toxic chemicals in food that can cause cancer, brain disease and other complications.

Prof Fred Kabi, the lead developer, said with the software dubbed Kebera Organics, a consumer simply has to scan the food commodity and get either of the three signals -red, yellow or green. Red means it’s dangerous, yellow means the contamination is at a moderate level, and green means it is safe. 

The expert revealed this yesterday during a symposium at the university organised by the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES). 

Many scientists, who were supported by Makerere and Michigan State universities, were showcasing different innovations aimed at solving food needs in the country and the globe.  

Prof Kabi said at the event that they have also developed a device that farmers and traders can use to scan and detect the levels of contaminants in soil, plants, fruits and food commodities. 

He said in addition to protecting public health, the technologies will be essential in increasing Uganda’s share of the lucrative organic market to enrich farmers and the country.

Increasing market share

“The [global] organic market is worth $100 billion (Shs385 trillion). The market is increasing because people want to eat clean food which is not contaminated. But when you look at Uganda, despite the large number of farmers practising organic agriculture, our access to this market is only $50 million (Shs193b),” the lead developer said.

“We went to small organic farmers and we asked them why they are not accessing the global markets despite high demand for organic foods. We were told the problem is that the certification process is very tedious, very expensive and smallholder farmers don’t have money to meet it,” Prof Kabi explained.

The chief executive officer of the National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda, Mr Chariton Namuwoza, told Daily Monitor that they are currently organising farmers into groups so they can access the certification. 

“We teach them how to produce, standards to comply with and how to attract buyers. When they work in groups, even certification becomes cheaper. If you are in a group, you can pay as low as Shs10,000 to get certification through the participatory guarantee system,” he said. 

Prof Kabi, on the other hand, said they came up with an ICT-based solution to ease certification and penetrate global markets.  

“Kebera Organics is a device that explores electromagnetic spectrum and it works on the principles of the near-infrared reflector spectroscopy to be able to understand the components of the chemical that are in the food,” he said.

“Once you are able to test the food and determine it has no contaminants, it means the product can access the markets,” he added.

The expert said the software, which can be linked to the phone, allows for scanning, analysis and display of the level of a contaminant in food. 

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