Associate Professor Richard Echodu who led the research told URN on Friday that most of the food eaten in the region is not safe for consumption due to the high level of mycotoxins contamination. 98% of the people in Norther Uganda are already affected.
Over 80 per cent of grain-based food produced and consumed in
Northern Uganda is contaminated with mycotoxins, according to research by the Gulu University Faculty
of Agriculture and Environment.
The three-year-long research titled Holistic Approach to
Combat Mycotoxin Contamination in Northern Uganda (HAMNU) was conducted in
twelve districts in Northern Uganda between August 2018 and 2022. Ghent University supported it.
The districts where the food and people were examined in Lango and Acholi sub-regions
include Gulu, Nwoya, Kole, Oyam, Omoro, Kitgum, Pader, Agago, Lamwo, and Lira
as well as parts of Karamoja. The research also covered four grain-based foods
including sorghum, millet, maize, and ground nuts which are believed to be most
consumed in the region.
It also discovered that 98 per cent of the people in the area present high levels of mycotoxins traces
in their bodies. Mycotoxins are toxic compounds that are naturally produced
by certain types of moulds (fungi). The types include aflatoxins, fumonisins,
ochratoxins, and deoxynivalenol.
Experts say consuming food containing mycotoxins is
associated with health risks like liver cancer, immuno-suppression, loss of
appetite, hepatitis B, growth impairment, immune malfunction, and acute
exposure is fatal.
Researchers at Gulu University say all samples of millets,
maize, ground nuts, and sorghum that were collected for laboratory
qualification had all forms of mycotoxins. The researchers name sorghum, ground nuts, and maize with
the highest concentration of mycotoxins while millet presented the least
Associate Professor Richard Echodu who led the research told
URN during an interview on Friday that most of the food eaten in the region is
not safe for consumption due to the high level of mycotoxins contamination.
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Professor Echodu explained that the researchers undertook
longitudinal studies, interacted with farmers, and picked samples of at least 0.5 and 1kg of grains for laboratory qualification of mycotoxins. The researchers engaged more than 300 farmers from within
their households, from two parishes of two sub-counties from each district.
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According to Professor Echodu, poor harvest management, and
handling, poor food grains drying processes, unconducive storage mechanisms
especially exposing food to wet conditions, and limited aeration.
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He also advised people to avoid eating the assorted damaged
seeds or using them to brew alcohol or feed animals noting that they still
impact the products.
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Besides health risks, Godfrey Wokorach who took part in the
research notes that mycotoxins also undermine the economic quality of grains
leading to financial implications. He notes that reducing contamination levels will expose
farmers to better markets and better income.
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Professor Geert Haesaert of Ghent University who was part of
the research says that the prevalence of mycotoxins in grains is not determined
by the genotype of varieties of the grain.
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Dorcus Alum, the Lira District Agricultural Officer says
that the research is so touching and calls for sensitizing of the
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Fred Opiyo, a resident of Gulu City says the research
finding is not magical looking at the dying healthy food preservation and
storage mechanisms that the Acholi people had such as granaries on hilltops. In March last year, Kenya stopped the importation of maize
from Uganda because of quality concerns over reports of the presence of
aflatoxins, which is one of the mycotoxins.