Her Excellency Rhoda Tumusiime, AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture,
Ladies and gentlemen.
I warmly welcome you to Uganda for the second PACA (Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa) ,meeting.
Today marks yet another landmark in the history of our continent in joining hands and taking collective responsibility in the struggle to assure our population of the right to lead decent lives by providing adequate, safe and nutritious foods. Our continent is strongly committed to achieving this through the relevant International Agreements and regional initiatives that we have signed and ratified.
I congratulate the previous speakers for bringing to our knowledge the potential damage aflatoxins (toxins from fungus) have on the health, agriculture and trade sectors. These negative impacts can result in adverse effects on our economies and the general well-being of our society, particularly through hampering the strides we have made towards the achievement of the African Vision 2063.
The aflatoxin problem is widespread on the continent, affecting nearly 25 percent of food produced in Africa. It is estimated that the African continent loses USD 450 – 670 million annually in export earnings due to aflatoxins. A study conducted by Makerere University, with support from the African Union Commission, estimates that due to aflatoxins, Uganda’s total annual exports deteriorate by US$37.56 million resulting in household disposable incomes falling by US$ 79.3 million per year.
Beyond our continent, US$1.2 billion is lost in commerce worldwide. However, there is hope that great economic benefits could be realised if we address aflatoxins collectively, for example, if Senegal and the Gambia took action against aflatoxins, they would regain USD 281 million annually due to increased exports of groundnuts to EU markets alone.
I am particularly concerned about the impact of aflatoxins on the health sector. We have been informed about how exposure to aflatoxins can lead to high rates of liver cancer, stunted growth in children and impaired immune systems resulting in permanently compromised lives. Indeed, it is estimated that 40% of the children in Sub-Saharan Africa have low height for their age which is also associated with impaired brain development. This is a grim outlook for our continent. We need to pay attention and act now with a sense of urgency.
I have heard about the recent aflatoxin outbreaks in Kenya and Tanzania which have resulted in the loss of human life. I would like to assure our brothers and sisters that Uganda will support them and share the experiences, expertise and knowledge that our country has gained in mitigating aflatoxins.
No single country, organization or ministry can face the challenge of aflatoxins alone. We need to lay down clear strategies coupled with well-designed roadmaps and involving all stakeholders to take on the mitigation responsibilities in a sustainable and accountable approach.
It is evident that the impacts of aflatoxins could significantly jeopardize our endeavours to meet our obligations under the Sustainable Development Goals, African vision 2063 and Malabo Declaration of African Heads of State. We, therefore, need to design, embrace and implement complementary strategies that enable us to tackle the bottlenecks that stand in our way to achieving the results we want.
I am happy that we are on track in the agriculture sector with the CAADP and Malabo Declarations as a framework for service delivery within the sector. I, therefore, congratulate the Council of Ministers of Agriculture and Ministers of Trade, who in 2012, considered it prudent to institutionalize the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa at the African Union Commission to oversee how Africa could approach the common enemy - aflatoxins. This continent-wide approach to a common problem not only brings people together in a united front to face a common challenge but also provides a model that can be replicated in the management of other existing continental challenges.
The coordinating role of PACA (Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act) at the African Union Commission provides leadership, transparency and accountability of the AUC to its Member States as well as better bargaining opportunities at the highest level. I, therefore, urge Member states to consider its adoption, with or without modifications and mirroring of this model at national level to ensure more effective aflatoxin mitigation.
When we have one single problem impacting on our trade and ability to create wealth as Africans, impacting on our children’s future and even killing our people, then it is time to act. It is time to hold hands and take action against this aflatoxin problem.
I, therefore, call upon everyone in their capacity to join us in this battle against aflatoxins as it can only be won when we embrace inclusiveness, transparency and partnerships.
Africa still has the opportunity to regain its lost markets, ensure health for its population as well as provide adequate safe and nutritious food to feed its citizens. The fact that African countries have prioritized Aflatoxins control agenda implies Africa is highly concerned about matters of global health as a whole and is taking action in implementing preventative measures.
I urge African leaders and African citizens to embrace food safety at all levels and I also urge our development partners to walk this journey with us.
Our facilities of Food Science and Technology at Makerere and other universities have information in the mould (oruhuumba) known as aspergillus that generates these aflatoxins. They also have remedies. One remedy they say is to ensure that the maize for instance, is harvested from the garden when it is beginning to dry and they are put on a drying platform (not on the ground) dried to 13% moisture content. Low moisture content discourages the aspergillus from growing and generating the aflatoxins. One of them told me about the ozone treatment ─ that powerful oxygen would disintegrate the aflatoxins and render them harmless. They also talk of the de-husking the maize if you are making maize flour. Some of the aspergillus would be shed off. Discuss the topic thoroughly and give us guidance.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the African Union Commission for organizing this continental platform meeting and choosing my country Uganda to host the second Platform Meeting. I am looking forward to concrete decisions and recommendations that our countries can adopt and advance to assure a healthy and productive population in Africa.
I wish you all good deliberations and declare the platform meeting open.
I thank you.
12th October, 2016 - Entebbe