Kenya’s Ban On Ugandan Maize Is Uganda’s Fault.
Written by Amy on March 11, 2021
A few days ago Kenya’s Agriculture and Food Authority announced a ban on the importation of maize from Uganda citing high levels of mycotoxins that are beyond safety limits.
In a letter dated 5th March 2021 addressed to Pamela Ahago, the Commissioner of Customs Kenya Revenue Authority, the Acting Director-General of Kenya’s Agriculture and Food Authority (KAFA) Kello Harsama said that they have been conducting surveillance on the safety of food exports to Kenya and that test results for maize imported from Uganda and Tanzania revealed high levels of mycotoxins.
“Mycotoxins, particularly aflatoxins and fumonisins are known to be carcinogenic. Over the years, several acute and chronic aflatoxin related illness cases have been recorded in Kenya including deaths,” Harsama noted.
Kello told Ahago that the Authority has stopped any further maize imports with immediate effect. “The Republic of Kenya is however committed to facilitating safe trade with her trading partners and look forward to working closely with all stakeholders to address the concern.”
However, Kenya’s ban on Uganda’s maize caused a huge loss to many Ugandans who have been dealing in exporting maize to Kenya. Business reports from Kenya indicate that Kenya has been buying almost 90 percent of Uganda’s exported maize.
Ugandan produce dealers have lost Shillings 5billion in the last three days following the ban on maize exports to Kenya. According to the produce dealers, the Kenyan government has so far returned over 70,000 metric tons of maize they had exported to the neighboring country.
Muhammad Zubair, one of the producer dealers, says that the Kenyan authorities returned 90,000 tons of maize worth Shillings 50 million he had transported to Kenya.
James Kamat, a Kenyan driver is stranded with over 300 bags of maize he had loaded on his truck destined for Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. He has spent six days in Busia town and is only waiting for his boss to send him money to return home.
Bakhali Magemeso, the Secretary Busia Produce Dealer’s Cooperative, says following the ban on the importation by the Kenyan government they have also suspended buying maize from local farmers until the situation normalizes.
However, while the debate rages on in boardrooms and the floor of Parliament, the Director of Uganda Cancer Institute, Dr. Jackson Orem says Uganda should tread with caution, arguing that flatoxins – a type of toxin produced by a fungus that remains on crops, especially maize, when not dried and stored properly is a big threat to Uganda’s effort to prevent liver cancer.
He says while Kenya has slapped the ban on the importation of maize to save its people from cancer, Ugandans who mainly consume the maize meal commonly known as Posho, Kawunga or Bando face the same threat and need protection.
Scientists like Dr Jackson Orem confirm that the maize meal may not be safe if it contains a certain level of aflatoxins. The biggest threat is that high levels of aflatoxins can lead to liver cancer.
Aflatoxins are mainly caused by fungus. The fungus normally like grain and nuts especially when they are not well preserved. Dr Jackson Orem observes that if it is true that aflatoxins were traced in Ugandan maize as observed by the Kenyan authorities, it could be because of an existing gap in the way the maize was handled at the post-harvest level.
Studies by International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the National Agricultural Research Organization have found that aflatoxin is a major challenge to the country’s efforts towards food self-sufficiency.
In 2014, researchers conducted a study whose finding was published in the European Union Journal of Tropical Medicine and International Health. It investigated aflatoxin contamination in common foodstuff in Uganda. It involved 100 adults and 96 children less than 3 years of age (85 males, 111 female).
The results indicated that every adult and all but four children had detectable levels of aflatoxins. Surprisingly, five babies reported to be exclusively breastfed were also found with detectable levels of the toxins.
The study however found that adults who consumed more Matooke (bananas) had lower levels of aflatoxins than adults who did not, possibly, because their diet contained fewer aflatoxin‐contaminated foods such as posho.
Children who consumed soya, which is not grown locally, had levels of aflatoxins that were almost twice as high as those who did not eat soy. Other studies have estimated 3,700 liver cancer cases reported in the country annually are attributable to aflatoxin contamination. This translates to between US$144.3 and 577.2 million, or 0.53–2.14% of Uganda’s total GDP.