, NAIROBI, Kenya, May 10 – The government has announced that it will purchase contaminated maize from farmers in Eastern and Coast provinces in an attempt to stop the circulation of the deadly aflatoxin fungi in the market.
A special inter-ministerial meeting chaired by Prime Minister Raila Odinga resolved that the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) should immediately commence mopping up the poisonous maize to sop desperate farmers from selling it in the market.
“We have directed the NCPB to buy back any contaminated maize either from individuals, retail stores or millers. We will install reliable aflatoxin test kits at all Cereals Board depots within one week,” said the PM adding that a taskforce would be formed to analyse the issues and recommend actions to be taken.
The PM was speaking after receiving a report from the cereals body on the toxic grains in the country which was undertaken in March after his office was told that the Agriculture Ministry might have purchased large quantities of the bad maize.
The contamination of grains is not new to Kenya and has in the past claimed lives as happened in 2004 when 150 people died after they consumed aflatoxin-infected maize. This time however, no deaths have been reported.
High humidity caused by continuing heavy rains has caused extensive damage to farmers’ harvests in the two regions due to what has largely been attributed to limited knowledge on how to dry and store the grains. The grains that are believed to be highly contaminated are those harvested in the last few months during the on-going long rains.
The Premier added that as a long-term intervention measure, the government would ensure food safety by constructing drying and storage facilities with the help of the National Youth Service and military officers to ensure such incident don\’t recur.
In the short-term, however, the government will launch an awareness campaign to sensitise the public of the dangers of consuming the maize and early detection signs of food poisoning for those who may have already eaten it.
Affected farmers will be compensated for their loss of income and they will also receive clean maize from the government for their domestic use.
Mr Odinga could however not quantify how much these measures would cost as testing was still ongoing.
Present at the briefing was Agriculture Minister Sally Kosgey who assured that there is no likelihood of a maize shortage as there were still sufficient stocks for the whole country despite the existence of contaminated maize in the some areas.
Farmers in both the Eastern and Coastal provinces alone are believed to be holding more than four million bags of maize but it’s too early to tell how much of that is poisonous.
Already, Dr Kosgey said, her ministry has bought 2,249bags of toxic maize which is being held at NCPB depots to prevent it from falling in the hands of millers and consumers.