Maize and its distribution systems

The community in the affected area consists mainly of peasant farmers who practice mixed subsistence farming with some livestock rearing. In the affected areas, as in the rest of the country, maize is the staple food and is the main crop grown in the area. Local maize often is harvested in February before the onset of the rainy season. At harvest most of the farmers store maize for household consumption and sell the rest for cash to meet household needs. When household stocks are exhausted the farmers buy the maize back from the grain traders. The maize is distributed and sold through a network of rural markets. The grain traders often pool small lots from many farmers, and may mix this pool of locally grown maize with maize from outside the region. There are no records of maize sources or movement available at this level of the food chain.

Maize standards and assessment of the maize in the local markets

In the United States and many other parts of the world, aflatoxin concentrations are limited to 20 ng/g (FAO, 2004). Although no formal limits are enforced in Kenya, the 20 ng/g level also has been adopted by Kenyan authorities as the regulatory limit for aflatoxin contamination in grain destined for human consumption and animal feed. An assessment of the maize in the local market system found widespread aflatoxin contamination. Over 55% of the maize had aflatoxin levels > 20 ng/g, and 7% of the maize had levels > 1000 ng/g. These high levels in the marketplace samples were an indication of the significant aflatoxin risk exposure of the population in the affected areas. The aflatoxin levels in the grain in the markets mirrored the geographic distribution of the aflatoxicosis cases.

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