Tanzania has delayed the ratification of a regional Bill that is expected to provide rules for the management of cancer-causing aflatoxin contamination within the region.
Dar es Salaam is yet to ratify Sanitary and Phytosanitary Protocol (SPS) 2013, which is supposed to pave the way for the enactment of the new law.
East African countries are estimated to lose more than two million tonnes of maize each year due to aflatoxin contamination.
“Aflatoxin contamination poses a serious threat to human and animal health. However, we do not have a regional law that would guide the fight against aflatoxin,” said Fahari Marwa, a principal agriculture economist at the EAC.
Tanzania Minister of Agriculture, Japhet Hasunga said that ratification of the SPS 2013 will not be processed in parliament this year because its major agenda will be discussing the national budget in the last session before the General Election.
“There have been some delays because as a country we are still in the process of reviewing and getting more clarification so as to ensure the protocol brings benefits and are satisfactory,” said Mr Hasunga.
“Presentation of the SPS protocol at the National Assembly could be done at the 12th parliamentary session next year,” he added.
Lack of awareness
Efforts to mitigate aflatoxin at both national and regional levels have remained fragmented due to lack of awareness, inadequate financial support and not having a regional legal framework.
The 27th Meeting of the EAC Council of Ministers held in August 2013 directed the Secretariat to adopt a multi-sectoral approach that encompasses agriculture, health, environment, trade and industry sectors in the implementation of the aflatoxin interventions at national and regional levels.
However, the move has been slowed down by a number of factors, including failure by partner states to ratify the protocol on time.
The proposed SPS Bill, which is expected to be presented before the East African Legislative Assembly, would provide for enforcement mechanisms on issues of food safety, plant and animal health.
It will also provide for a regional SPS committee and require partner states to form national SPS committees. The national committees would form the basis for the formation of a regional SPS committee.
Kenya and Tanzania each produce large quantities of maize.
High aflatoxin contamination above the maximum permissible level of 10ppb in maize have been reported in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
In February 2018, the 36th Council of Ministers approved the EAC Aflatoxin Prevention and Control Strategy and Action Plan.
The Council further directed partner states to heighten levels of awareness and mainstream the EAC Aflatoxin Prevention and Control Strategy priorities in their national budgets and investment plans.
Maize is a major staple food and the most traded in the region. High aflatoxin levels limit acceptability of agricultural products in domestic and international markets.
Consumption of aflatoxin, which is mostly found in cereals and their products, could cause acute or cumulative side effects depending on the levels taken in.
According to the World Health Organisation, large doses of aflatoxin lead to acute poisoning that can be life-threatening.
Long-term or chronic exposure to aflatoxin has several health consequences and may affect all organ systems, especially the liver and kidneys.
Aflatoxin contaminated food is also associated with adverse human and animal health impacts, including immunosuppression, stunting among infants and young children, and liver cancer in both humans and animals.
Aflatoxin contamination in food and feed continues to impede trade, translating to significant financial losses for the agriculture sector. This also undermines the livelihoods and well-being of millions of households who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.