KENYA: Warning over disposal of toxic maize

NAIROBI, 26 May 2010 (IRIN) – The plan by the Kenya National Cereals and Produce Board to buy contaminated maize from farmers must also ensure the grain is properly destroyed and does not find its way back to the market, agricultural and environmental experts warn.

The plan follows a government decision to buy the maize, which contains aflotoxins, to prevent its consumption. It followed an alert issued on 10 May that aflatoxin had been found in maize samples from Eastern and Coast provinces.

“Whichever way the disposal is carried out, care should be taken to ensure the contaminated maize does not enter the food chain in any form,” an agricultural researcher said. “There are several ways of disposal; we have chemical decontamination – which is expensive and not yet available in the country – and conversion of the maize to industrial use, such as glue, starch or methylated spirit.”

Agricultural officials estimate that at least 300,000 bags out of four million could be contaminated, following poor handling that resulted in a high moisture content in the grains.

Consumption of such maize, they say, could lead to aflatoxicosis. Since 2004, at least 200 people have died across Kenya after eating aflatoxin-infected maize, according to health and agricultural officials. Its symptoms include jaundice, fever, abdominal swelling, vomiting, swollen feet or hands and diarrhea. The condition can cause neurological impairment and stunted growth.

“Lack of proper handling from harvesting, drying, and preparation for shelling to storage, predisposes the grain to fungal attack,” Joseph Ngetich, the deputy director of agriculture in charge of the plant protection services division, told IRIN on 26 May.

“If the maize is shelled by beating, the result could be a lot of broken grain, and if it is not stored in bags made of natural fibre and in well-aerated storage, the grain is again predisposed to fungal attack.”

Ngetich said the stored maize should be treated with the adequate pesticides to prevent insect attacks, which could also lead to aflatoxin contamination.

“Care should be taken so that the maize does not get contaminated even before storage; in fact, without laboratory testing, it is difficult to tell with the naked eye the clean maize from the contaminated one,” he said. “It is possible to have contaminated but clean-looking maize and to have mouldy-looking maize that is not contaminated.”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A maize field: Agricultural officials estimate that at least 300,000 bags out of four million recently harvested could be contaminated – file photo

Funding set aside

On 22 May, Kareke Mbiuki, assistant minister for agriculture, said the government had set aside Ksh2 billion (US$26 million) to buy suspected bad maize in Eastern province.

The agricultural researcher, who requested anonymity, told IRIN: “The only way out is to get all the contaminated maize, [assess] the extent of contamination and decide what should be declared fit for human consumption, what can be used in formulation of animal feeds and what can go to industrial use. The highly contaminated maize should be destroyed through incineration.”

Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and those from the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services have taken samples from maize in the affected areas and are analyzing them to determine the extent of contamination.

A 6 May report, compiled by the National Cereals and Produce Board, indicated that out of 1,600,000, 90kg bags the government purchased in Eastern and Coastal areas, 103,000 bags had “very high levels” of aflatoxin.

According to February 2010 Ministry of Agriculture projections, a harvest of 4.3 million bags from Eastern province and about 6.7 million bags for the whole country was expected between February and April.

Source IRIN news

KENYA: Bamboo project to expand rural housing

NAIROBI, 28 May 2010 (IRIN) – Kenya should encourage the use of bamboo in building affordable shelters, especially for 60 percent of the population who live in poorly constructed dwellings in rural areas, says a specialist.

“Poor construction means they [houses] serve as breeding grounds for diseases including malaria, amoebic dysentery and respiratory conditions, which commonly claim the lives of many of their inhabitants,” Jacob Kibwange, project director of an initiative at Maseno University that aims to encourage bamboo exploitation, told IRIN.

The project, Tobacco to Bamboo, is pioneering the construction of cheap bamboo houses in the Mau and Kakamega areas of Western Kenya.

“If we improved bamboo housing, we could change the lives of many people,” Kibwange said. “With about 15,000ha of mature bamboo ready to be used, particularly in the Aberdares, Mau ranges, Mt Kenya and Mt Elgon, [we have] viable and inexpensive housing material in Kenya.”

According to a 2007 study by the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, nearly 60 percent of Kenya’s 37 million people are rural farmers who live on less than US$2 a day and live in inadequate homes that are often made of mud and poorly ventilated.

In the cities, the housing demand has reached 150,000 units per year against an annual production of about 50,000 units. According to the UN Human Settlements Programme, UN-HABITAT, the shortfall in the cities has led to overcrowding, slums and sub-standard housing.

The tobacco to bamboo project was launched by Maseno University’s School of Environment and Earth Studies in 2006. It began as a research activity to encourage the cultivation and utilization of bamboo as an alternative livelihood to tobacco farming in South Nyanza and Western Kenya and later set up nurseries in Migori, Kuria, Homa Bay and Suba districts.

Maseno launched housing projects in Kisumu town and trained 240 bamboo small-scale farmers and set up 120 field experimentation sites. The aim is to train 20,000 farmers to exploit bamboo in the next 15 years.

“Bamboo is a remarkably fast-growing plant that thrives in a range of different climates,” Kibwange said. “It can be planted easily in homesteads and harvested at the time of need without any additional expenditure.

“Because of its lightness, a bamboo house suffers very little damage from earthquakes and could serve as temporary and quick construction in disaster-prone areas in emergencies.”

After the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, about 4,000 bamboo houses provided shelter to thousands made homeless by the disaster, particularly in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It was also found that bamboo could resist heat of up to 55 degrees and unlike steel, was not vulnerable to rust and salty humidity.

In Kenya, however, an existing ban on harvesting bamboo could affect plans for its use. A Kenyan Forestry Services source, who requested anonymity, said the ban restricts harvesting to some selected users and government institutions. Experts are lobbying for it to be lifted.

Source: IRIN