Aflatoxin’s effect on child stunting, health and trade

Contributed by Selamawit Firdissa, Gender & Nutrition Expert, BENEFIT

The adverse effect of Aflatoxin and its link to a series of acute/chronic health problems to human and animals (including child stunting), was one of the major findings presented at the sixth BENEFIT-ENTAG Spice, Herbs and Aromatic Sector Platform meeting. The platform meeting that was held on 22 March 2018 at Harmony hotel, mainly focused safety and quality issues, identifying existing challenges related to aflatoxin and explore mitigation strategies to minimize its effect on health and trade.

The focus of the meeting was to raise awareness of aflatoxin challenges in spice and herbs, explore ways to mitigate its destructive effect on health and trade, and build international credibility through implementing strong National Food Control System (NFCS) for domestic market.

At the beginning of the meeting, a study conducted by ENTAG that highlights the current challenges/gaps regarding aflatoxins, its impacts on the domestic and international markets, bottlenecks and root causes of the national food control system was presented.

One of the major findings of the study indicates the relation between aflatoxin consumption and stunted growth.  Aflatoxin consumption at early age leads to development delays and increase susceptibility to infectious disease.  Ethiopia being one of those countries where malnutrition is an important public health problem, the issue of aflatoxin and its effect on child stunting needs close attention.

The study findings presented indicated the major commodities susceptible for aflatoxin are pepper, ginger, turmeric, and red kidney beans, and the causes focused on traditional practices: on- farm, adulteration, interim storage, transportation, processing and retail.  According to the finding high risk of aflatoxin contamination exist during harvest and postharvest practices, drying and storage, adulteration practices by aggregators and traders, water (moisture) addition followed by tight packing, spice processing/exporting with limited space etc.

Major challenges highlighted in the study included that there is no explicit aflatoxin intervention known in Ethiopia, no clear food safety strategy, no explicit farm to table food safety assurance approach, Food Control Management does not follow multiple agency approach with shared vision, and lack of coordination among National quality laboratory regulatory, private sector and other stakeholders, multiple agencies with common mandates.

Key recommendations put forward included to mainstream postharvest issues in organizational structures of MoANR and let positions be occupied by postharvest technologists at every hierarchical stage down to the kebele level; for laboratory facilities improvement and development to promote private laboratories for accredited aflatoxin testing service delivery, including mobile laboratories; and establish delineated markets for selected aflatoxin prone products to reduce adulteration and fraudulent behaviors. Furthermore, it’s indicated that a strong coordination among agencies responsible for Food Control Management as well as development and implementation of food policy and implementation strategy focusing on farm to table are needed to revitalize national food control system in the county.

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