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Feeding Nigeria’s growing population with grains remains a challenge for farmers. This is because of attacks on grains, such as maize and soya beans, by mycotoxins (food contaminants) which are posing a heavy economic burden to the industry. The  United States Agency for International Development (USAID)  and Nestle, have launched a partnership to enhance quality, safety, and transparency in Nigeria’s grain supply chain. The project is being implemented by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA).

Grains, including maize and soya beans, are the basics for food security in most parts of Nigeria. They are a major source of income for farmers in the northern part of the country and play an important role in the livelihood of millions of farmers. About 70 per cent of the total maize production in Nigeria comes from low-income farmers. Production, however, is affected by a number of constraints, including poor post-harvest management. This allows contaminants in the process, thereby destructing the grains.

The major contaminants, according to analysts, are mycotoxins, damaging toxins produced by fungi. They attack grains, including maize and soya beans, cause serious health issues for consumers, including the risk of cancer, immune system suppression and stunted skeletal growth, especially in infants. In addition to risks to public health, experts said mycotoxins generate a high level of economic losses for the food industry due to reduced crop yields and livestock illnesses.

They are of the view that one-quarter of agricultural products have been reported to be contaminated with mycotoxins in the world, with scientists saying that mycotoxins, toxic chemical compounds produced by moulds, could contaminate produce either in the field or during storage are invisible. The only proven way to determine whether grain, feed or food are contaminated, according to them, is by analytical testing.

Although more than 400 mycotoxins have been identified, aflatoxins (AF) and fumonisin (FUM), are associated with huge economic losses in the grain industry. indeed, mycotoxins contamination in foods has become a global concern. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), mycotoxins affect nearly 25 per cent of crops yearly, causing huge agricultural products and industrial losses in billions of dollars.

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FAO said food losses due to mycotoxin contamination posed a real threat to food security, especially in Africa where the magnitude of losses is difficult to estimate because of lack of information. Nigeria is not an exception, given the large maize production in most areas of the country.

Speaking during a stakeholders forum in Zaria, Kaduna State, the Team Leader, Feed The Future and Nestle Maize Quality Improvement Partnership (M-QIP), Prof Damian Chikwendu, said preventing mycotoxins contamination was essential for safety in the food industry. He stressed the need for regulations on food and feed to control the mycotoxins.

He said the partnership between USAID and Nestle aims to enhance quality, safety and transparency in the grain supply chain, noting that the two organisations supported the M+QIP project to improve agricultural practices of smallholder farmers and farmers associations, thereby enhancing relationships along the supply chains. The goal is also to increase their sales of maize and soya beans and to improve the health of rural communities through the consumption of safe products.

The major area of concentration is Kaduna State because it’s a key producer of maize and soya beans that can be leveraged for domestic use and export.

The major objective of the project is to increase the quantity and quality of maize and soya beans in Kaduna State by decreasing the levels of aflatoxins, fumonisin and aluminium.

‘ There has been an improvement in farmers awareness about contaminants and many of them have made efforts to mitigate the contaminants. More than 2,000 farmers applied Aflasafe on their maize fields this year ’

Chikwendu added that the active participation of the political leadership at the selected local government councils was one of the keys to the impacts of the project.

Their participation, he continued, was essential as it gave importance to the project.

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He said the project which took place in 14 local government areas was implemented in 122 communities, observing that ” the overall level of contaminants still remains high as a result of the practice of drying grains by the roadside. He said through this practice, contaminants are introduced to the grains.”

Chikwendu said with the continued use of Buka method for drying maize and persistent rains this year, it is expected that mycotoxins, especially aflatoxin and fumonisin, will thrive. He said prevention was the most important and effective way of reducing fungal growth and mycotoxin production, urging farmers to adopt good agricultural practices (GAP) on the field, control practices of harvesting and storage, among others.

One of the strategies for the prevention of mycotoxin formation, according to him, is the application of  Aflasafe, a biocontrol product. He said: “There has been an improvement in farmers awareness about contaminants and many of them have made efforts to mitigate the contaminants. More than 2,000 farmers applied Aflasafe on their maize fields this year.”

As a result, he said two out of the six aggregators that sell grains to Nestlé have had zero rejection rates for their grains supply to the company and other businesses in Kaduna State this year by leveraging on the expertise of volunteers.

He said the farmers learnt how to reduce crop contaminants and to increase the safety and quality of maize and soybeans, which expectedly would lead to improved health, nutrition and livelihood in the respective communities.

Over the last three years, CNFA has led a team of experts and volunteers to design and deliver farmer and aggregator training programmes to help reduce aflatoxins and other contaminants in grains, through a train- the trainer approach.

Emphasising on the impact of the partnership on the local economy, the Chairman, Lere Local Government Area, Kaduna State, Abubakar Buba,  said the training would contribute to building resilient and thriving communities and resulting in improved living conditions of individuals and families. He reiterated that it will help lift farmers out of poverty by sharing best practices in agriculture activities.

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According to him, the Kaduna State government is providing farmers with the tools to improve their products and increase household incomes, adding that the effort to boost food production is being paired with improving rural livelihood through infrastructure development.

As a result, he noted that the food system is being activated by value chain development from food production, distribution, processing, marketing and consumption.

The Technical and Registration Manager- Crop Protection, West Africa, BASF, Adewole Fatokun said his organisation identify the status and needs of farmers and farming communities, saying following their investigation, they provided them with agricultural support and capacity building to increase yields, crop quality and income level.

The Agribusiness Coordinator, Abuja & North, First City Monument Bank, Usman Kamardeen, said the bank has provided loan to provide access to credit for farmers to buy inputs and scale their operations.

One of the aggregators, Nalmaco Nigeria Limited, said the company has improved its infrastructure to mitigate aflatoxin, fumonisins and aluminium in the maize it supplies Nestle and other.

It’s General Manager, Lawrence Ogolowa, said the maize cleaning process has been strengthened to prevent rejection of its products.

M-QIP is a three-year activity implemented by CFNA.

The S1.9 million programme is targeted at improving the practice of over 20,000 farmers- more than 8,000 of whom are women in order to supply Nestle with at least 11,000 metric tonnes (MT) of maize and 6000 MT of soya beans that meet, or exceed, its grains-reception criteria.

Source: The Nation

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