The rwanda Bureau of Standards (RBS) and the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) have started an operation to control mycotoxins, a toxic substance that affects food and animal feeds.
The substance is produced by bacteria and fungi. It causes health complications to animals and humans when affected produce is eaten.
The two bodies will, in the meantime, focus studying the problem in maize and cassava, officials said.
“Maize and cassava are the two food crops which are more prone to mycotoxins. The risk is now higher with the current increase in production of the crops,” said Jean Jacques Mbinigaba Muhinda, the RAB director general, said during a training workshop of staff from the two bodies and other stakeholders.
The workshop, which also attracted representatives from research institutions, the private sector and faith-based organisations, called for immediate interventions to avoid the dangers posed by mycotoxins.
Muhinda explained that stakeholders, especially farmers will be sensitised on the causes of the toxins to help prevent the spread of mycotoxins under the new initiative.
Stakeholders also called for the setting up of a database to guide interventions against mycotoxin contamination in maize and cassava. Mycotoxin also affects coffee, cereals, peanuts, beans and dried fruit.
Muhinda said the toxins are caused by high temperature and humidity levels, as well as poor storage facilities. Stored maize and cassava in areas like Bugesera, Mayaga and Mutara which experience high temperatures are more vulnerable to mycotoxin, according to RAB.
Eating food that is contaminated by mycotoxin causes liver cancer, the standards body officials said.
They said although no cases have been registered in Rwanda so far, creating awareness about the issues is the best preventative measure.
RSB noted that there have been five major incidences in eastern and central Kenya between 1981 and 2006, where 317 people were affected and 125 died after eating maize contaminated with mycotoxins.
“Mycotoxins crippled the export of groundnuts in West Africa,” noted Mark Bagabe, the standards body director general.
Bagabe said RSB has developed a system to train laboratory analysts to test import and export products to ensure they are free from mycotoxins.
He added that the body has kits for screening grains before processing, noting that this has been effective in curbing the spread of the toxins.