Scientists at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) are close to finding a solution to the aflatoxin problem. Aflatoxins are harmful substances that can make people sick and harm the economy.
Dr. Godfrey Asea, who is the Director of NaCRRI, talked about this during a meeting organized by the Science Foundation for Livelihoods & Development. He said they made a product called UG-01, which farmers can put on their crops to stop aflatoxins.
In Uganda, there have been many cases of food having aflatoxins. This can even lead to liver cancer. During the COVID-19 pandemic, free food given by the government had aflatoxins. Also, food from Uganda was stopped at the border with South Sudan because of aflatoxins.
Now, scientists say if farmers use UG-01 on their crops two to three weeks before the crops flower, it can stop aflatoxins. UG-01 makes good fungi that fight against the harmful fungi that cause aflatoxins. Normally, people think aflatoxins happen after harvesting, but studies show it mostly happens when crops are still in the field.
Scientists tested UG-01 in more than 5000 fields in Uganda, on crops like maize, groundnuts, and sorghum. The results showed that UG-01 reduced aflatoxins in maize by 66.7% and in sorghum by 74.2%.
Now, the scientists are finishing their research and making a plan to sell UG-01. They hope it will be allowed by the government by the end of this year. We don’t know how much it will cost yet, but they are talking about it.
However, even with this new solution, scientists say it’s not enough. Dr. Andrew Kiggundu, who is a Biotechnology expert, says we need to do many things to stop aflatoxins, from the field to storing and moving the crops. One idea is to pick the crops at the right time and dry them properly. For maize, the moisture should be less than 13%. Also, we need to teach farmers how to do these things. But scientists are worried that most of the effort is focused on exports, not on food for local people.
They say we need better ways to test for aflatoxins, too. Right now, it’s expensive, costing about fifteen dollars for one test. Dr. Asea suggests making a fast and cheap testing kit.