Own Correspondent|Zimbabwe has secured maize from Uganda after President Emmerson Mnangagwa engaged President Yoweri Museveni on the sidelines of the recently ended 33rd Ordinary Summit of the African Union in Ethiopia.
A delegation led by Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Perrance Shiri travelled to the East African country to thrash out modalities of importing the grain.
President Mnangagwa revealed this on Friday at State House in Bulawayo when he met civil society organisations from the Matabeleland region.
“Fortunately, three or four days ago when we were in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) I was sitting with other Heads of State and President Museveni of Uganda said to me, ‘President Mnangagwa, I understand you need maize in Zimbabwe, I have plenty of it, come and collect’. So, I stood up from where I was sitting and went to him and he told me he had surplus maize. Yesterday (Thursday) I sent Minister Shiri to arrange the procurement of grain from Uganda,” he said.
Maize from Uganda has been a topical issue as the quality of the maize has been queried throughout East Africa.
To preserve the maize, Ugandan farmers are still drying it the traditional way by spreading it on the ground for four or five days.
But drying maize on the ground has serious health consequences that have been condemned.
The process produces aflatoxins, substances that are produced by fungi and associated with an increased risk of liver cancer. Aflatoxin-producing fungi most often contaminate crops at harvest time and during storage.
Archileo Kaaya is a professor at Makerere University’s Food Technology, Nutrition, and Bio-engineering Department who has researched aflatoxins for more than 20 years. He says that about 40% of the maize grown in Uganda contains aflatoxins at levels that exceed East African Community standards. He explains, “It’s while on the ground that maize is contaminated by microorganisms [such as] bacteria, fungus, and worms, which poison it.”
Maize is Uganda’s third-largest agricultural product, after plantains and cassava. It’s also a major export. But now, high levels of aflatoxins are jeopardizing that. In October 2018, Kenya rejected 600,000 tonnes of maize from Uganda, worth about 180 billion Ugandan shillings ($48.5 million), because it was contaminated by aflatoxins at 40 parts per billion, according to the East African Grain Council. The maximum acceptable level is 10 parts per billion.
Pausta Clessy Nuwagaba is the programs officer for structured trading systems at the East African Grain Council. He says, “We understand that many of the farmers are not aware of aflatoxin.… However, campaigns encouraging them to adopt new ways of drying maize have been ongoing for years.”
While training small-scale farmers could reduce the problem, the larger issue, he says, is the country’s grain market. Mr. Nuwagaba says that maize of all different levels of quality and from all types of farms come together in the grain markets.
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