Acute aflatoxicosis in Eastern Kenya

Since May 2004, acute aflatoxin poisoning in Kenya has claimed the lives of over 100 people, with the every-day levels of aflatoxins far exceeding maximum safe consumption levels. FAO coordinated a training of "trainers" for extension staff to raise awareness of mycotoxin contamination and to develop postharvest practices for aflatoxin control. To ensure sustainability, trainees sensitized farmer groups and helped develop action plans for aflatoxin control at the farm level. The action plans were intended to serve as pilot projects that could be replicated in other communities. A second phase of the project stressed raising awareness and pilot drying methods and storage at the community level. A primary factor in the Kenyan outbreak was the availability of food at the time of the outbreak, with many people forced to either eat the moldy grain or to starve, lack of application of Good Agricultural Practices, the weather patterns, and the fragile health status of the population. Future similar events may be avoided if an integrated approach to mycotoxin management is applied, entailing:

• Locally adapted preharvest and postharvest prevention of fungal contamination.

• GAP, GMP and GSP control measures with communication in local languages.

• Intervention in key areas such as seed material, hygiene, cultivation practices, fungicide treatment, limiting plant stress (e.g. insect damage and drought), correct harvest date and practices, grain sorting, drying to completeness on an appropriate surface, and proper storage.

The key indicators to monitor include temperature, humidity/moisture/water activity, rainfall, water stress and the presence of insects. The problems that occurred in Kenya could be minimized or avoided if a GAP/HACCP system and its related critical control points is applied, and a forecasting system for acute cases of mycotoxin contamination is developed.

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