NARO launches innovative machine to aflatoxins in grains

The code has come at a time when Uganda is still nursing wounds over its neighbors' interceptions of its grain exports especially maize and flour for allegedly containing aflatoxin

The machine has come at a time when Uganda is still nursing wounds over its neighbors’ interceptions of its grain exports especially maize and flour for allegedly containing aflatoxin

Farmers and traders in cereals can now access aflatoxin testing services from the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) laboratories. The laboratories are based at the National Livestock Resources Research Institute (NaLRRI) in Namulonge, Wakiso district.

The development follows the unveiling of the evidence investigator machine that detects aflatoxins not only in cereal crops but also milk, beef, drug and hormone residues in poultry, among others.

The machine was unveiled to Members of Parliament (MPs) on the committee on agriculture on Monday at NaLRRI. The machines also test for antibiotics and pesticide residues in honey.

Dr David Matovu, a senior research scientist, said this machine will mainly benefit grain traders and processors because large volumes will be sampled, which may be costly for a farmer. For example, samples will be taken from every 100 bags of grains in a particular warehouse for testing.

“Data generated from this machine will support the Government in developing policies that promote food safety, better use of chemicals or contaminants that can lead to health problems,” Matovu added.

In comparison with such machines in the region, Matovu said the Ugandan machine can detect nine mycotoxins at once, making it more effective in quality control.


Aflatoxins are a class of toxic compounds produced by certain moulds found in food, which can cause liver damage and cancer. They belong to a much larger group of molds called mycotoxins, which are naturally occurring toxins produced by fungi in the garden or in storage.

The foods most susceptible to aflatoxins include peanuts, maize and some small grains such as rice. Aflatoxin M1 is also found in milk of cows that eat aflatoxin B1 contaminated crops.

Internationally, the limit for total aflatoxins is set at 20 parts per billion (ppb) while in the East African region, it is 10 ppb. Matovu added that for grains to be rejected on the market due to aflatoxins, it means the levels are beyond the recommended 10 ppb as per the East African Community standards.

“We restricted ours to nine ppb due to higher contamination rates in Uganda as we continue with additional research in the field to improve modalities of drying and storage of cereals,” Matovu added.

In terms of breeding, he said researchers have already bred some maize varieties that instead of remaining erect when drying, the cobs bend, which prevents rainwater from penetrating the maize while still in the gardens.


Additionally, the aflatoxin binder has been coated on dead or inactive sorghum grains that cannot germinate when sprinkled in the garden before grains are planted. These prevent aflatoxins in the soil from attacking the plant, Matovu explained.

“The sorghum has been coated with an aflatoxin binder, which when you sprinkle on the ground while planting maize or other cereals, they grow without getting toxins from the soil. The binder has been coated with a blue layer to prevent birds from eating the sorghum,” Matovu added.

According to the Grain Council of Uganda, the country loses about $38m (sh144b) annually in exports due to aflatoxins.


In his remarks during the launch of the food safety campaign at Namulonge recently, Alex Bambona, assistant commissioner food and nutrition security in the agriculture ministry, said last year, maize production stood at 4.7 metric tonnes but the quality was among the worst in the region, leading to several rejections.

In 2018, Kenya rejected 600,000 metric tonnes of maize from Uganda due to aflatoxin contamination and last year more tonnes of maize were rejected by the government of South Sudan.

Matovu said since Uganda signed the regional convention to provide safe food, it has to adhere to minimum requirements when it comes to food trade. He said once the funds are available, production of five tonnes of toxin binders per hour will kick off by the end of this financial year.


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