Ghana’s Grains and Groundnuts Face Increasing Contamination Amid Increasing Temperatures

Ghanian smallholder farmer Regina Dabiali says they are increasingly losing out on harvests as their grains are becoming affected by aflatoxins. Courtesy: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

By Albert Oppong-Ansah
BONO EAST REGION, Ghana , Oct 16 2019 – Adwoa Frimpomaah, a smallholder farmer from Dandwa, a farming community in Nkoranza, in Ghana’s Bono East Region, and her two children have been consuming insect-infested and discoloured grains produced from their three-acre farm.

“Just look, I harvested this maize a week ago and after de-husking, majority of the cobs are either rotten, mouldy, or discoloured. I spent all my resources on this farm so I will sell the good grains, and wash the darkened grains, take out the rotten ones and eat it because we have no food,” she tells IPS.

Part of the yield from the April to July farming season, the grains that Frimpomaah and her family consumed are discoloured and mouldy because of the humidity and high temperatures here.

Dr. Rose Omari, Senior Research Scientist at the Science, Technology and Policy Research Institute, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, describes these discoloured and mouldy grains as potentially being contaminated by harmful aflatoxins, which are both toxic and carcinogenic.

Researchers say that Ghana, like many West African countries, has high levels of aflatoxins in a majority of its staples, such as maize, peanuts, millet, and sorghum.

“Consumption of both maize and groundnut results in high human aflatoxin exposure in Ghana. However, most Ghanaians have little to no knowledge of either what aflatoxins are or the health risks posed by these toxins,” a 2018 report titled ‘Prevalence of Aflatoxin Contamination in Maize and Groundnut in Ghana’ states.  

“Aflatoxins are one of the most potent and dangerous groups of mycotoxins worldwide. Over four billion people in developing countries are repeatedly exposed to aflatoxins, contributing to greater than 40 percent of the disease burden in these countries,” an explanation on the characteristics of aflatoxins states

Smallholder farmers take a hit

This is in addition to economic losses.

“The trade sector has been affected as well. Commodities from Ghana (peanut butter, spices, and edible seeds) exceeding tolerance thresholds have been rejected in European borders. As a consequence, Ghana faces a threat of an export ban of aflatoxin-susceptible commodities if necessary actions to reduce aflatoxin levels in trade commodities are not taken,” the 2018 report titled ‘Prevalence of Aflatoxin Contamination in Maize and Groundnut in Ghana’ states. 

Other small holder farmers are also feeling the impact.

“Yesterday an aggregator came here to convince us to sell a 100-kilogram sack of maize for GHC 90 ($16). We do not get the right market because of high levels of aflatoxins that affects the quality of our grains,” smallholder farmer Regina Dabiali, 30, tells IPS.

“It is demotivating for us to work hard throughout the season and not receive our deserved wage. We are not progressing in life.”

People unwittingly exposed to the toxins

Gladys Serwaa Adusah, the leader of the farming cooperative, Middle Zone Women Farmers, says that aflatoxin contamination is not only robbing people of income, but also is “deadly and scary”.

“I know that some traders in their quest to maximise profit prepare and sell unwholesome corn dough by mixing aflatoxins contaminated grains with the good ones. It is used to prepare a variety of dishes, including porridge, kenkey and banku, (local dishes) which many people eat unknowingly,” she says.

Omari tells IPS that studies conducted show that the continuous intake of food that contains high levels of aflatoxins, is detrimental to the health of both adults and children. In adults, she says, studies validate that the accumulation of low levels of aflatoxins over time damages the human liver, resulting in liver cancer. It also causes acute health conditions including, vomiting, abdominal pains, coma, and death when highly contaminated products are consumed.

Omari says, “It is a fact that in sub-Saharan Africa children are exposed to aflatoxins very early in life, including in utero through maternal food intake, during breastfeeding, through weaning and post-weaning periods through foods prepared from aflatoxin-contaminated peanuts and maize.”

“This leads to malabsorption, micronutrient deficiencies, impaired immune function, and vulnerability to gut infections, which all lead to impaired growth and malnutrition.”

Omari says, according to the latest Ghana Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, stunting in Ghana is highest among children under the age of five in the Northern Region and lowest in the Greater Accra region.

Referencing a study she conducted in 2018, together with other researches, Omari reveals that over 64 percent of weanimix (food made of maize, peanuts and beans) samples tested for high levels of aflatoxins, above 10 parts per billion (ppb) codex standards for process foods.

“The prevalence levels in this country are very high. These products ideally should not be on the market because safety-wise it is not wholesome. Most especially it is food for children who are the most vulnerable, ” she says.

However, according to the Food Sustainability Index, a global study on nutrition, sustainable agriculture and food waste developed in collaboration between the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition Foundation and the Economist Intelligence Unit, Ghana has a malnourishment prevalence score of 74.2 out of 100, where 100 equals the highest sustainability and greatest progress towards meeting environmental, societal and economic Key Performance Indicators.

Though quality Assurance Manager at Nestlé Ghana, Raphael Kuwornu, tells IPS that the issue of high levels of aflatoxins is of great concern to the company, “because we produce food for both adults and especially infants”.

“As a result we are working with a roadmap, which would see a continuous reduction in aflatoxin from 0.5ppb to 0.2ppb by 2020 for companies that supply us with maize grains,” he says.

Temperatures soar and so does prevelance of aflatoxins

Conditions favourable for the development, growth and dispersion of these fungi is between temperatures of 18 to 42° Celsius.

Deputy Director and Head of Research and Applied Meteorology at the Ghana Meteorological Agency, Francesca Martey, tells IPS that data gathered indicates a warming climate in Ghana.

Since 1960, she states, Ghana’s whole mean annual temperature rose by 1° Celsius and projections shows a further increase. “This is anticipated to have a major impact on the crop production system. The situation is not mild it is a serious issue,” she stresses.

Dr. Emmanuel Tachie-Obeng, a Principal Programme Officer at the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency, confirms to IPS that the rising temperature will fuel the production and spread of aflatoxins.

Tachie-Obeng says aflatoxins levels in maize may increase rapidly if not checked in areas such as Northern Volta, Central and Bono regions.

A solution that is not yet available to all

Last year, scientists at the International Institute of Tropical Agricultural (IITA) in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology developed and tested a bio-pesticide called Aflasafe that controls fungi that produces aflatoxins in the soil. 

Aflasafe is made from four non-aflatoxin producing  types of fungi native to Ghana, preventing crop infection, contamination, and reducing aflatoxins by between 80 and 100 percent.

Dr. Daniel Agbetiameh, Aflasafe Technical Advisor at IITA, tells IPS that the all-natural product is applied before crops are harvested and it displaces the aflatoxin-producing moulds by first occupying and then “colonising” the space these poison producers would otherwise occupy.

“With four kilos of Aflasafe, we can protect an entire acre of maize, groundnuts or sorghum. The result is increased farmer income, and better consumer health,” Agbetiameh notes.

He adds that aflatoxin management is a pipeline of events that starts from the farmer to the consumer so each actor needs to play their role in reducing levels of aflatoxins.

Frimpomaah, Adusah and Dabiali want the government to consider including Aflasafe on the list of inputs offered to farmers under its flagship programme Planting for Food and Jobs.

Until then, Dabiali says that smallholder farmers like herself, are “sweating for nothing”.

Holding Transnational Corporations Accountable for Human Rights Abuses

Shayda Naficy is a Senior Program Director at Corporate Accountability. Her areas of expertise include international human rights, global democracy movements, and water privatization and water management*.

 

Ebuata Philip Jakpor, a journalist and passionate advocate for environmental justice, is currently Programme Manager with the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.

By Shayda Naficy and Ebuata Pholip Jakpor
GENEVA / LAGOS, Oct 16 2019 – In Geneva this week, a treaty process is underway that promises to usher in a new era for human rights around the globe.

The process—the intergovernmental working group on the binding treaty on transnational corporations and human rights—could mean that for the first time, human rights would be prioritized above corporate profits.

But the future of the agreement and human rights writ large will depend on whether governments can agree on a strong text this week.

Communities and governments have long struggled to hold abusive corporations and industries accountable.

These corporations which are sometimes wealthier than the countries in which they operate, have employed a series of tactics to escape accountability including hiding behind their supply chain, questioning jurisdiction, and in some cases even disputing the legal authority of individuals, communities, and governments have to hold them accountable in the first place.

This week’s meeting is the treaty’s fifth round of negotiations. Since its inception, the process has been met with opposition from many governments where major transnational corporations are based, including the United States and the European Union.

Corporate abuse and human rights violations have become all too familiar an occurrence, especially in communities of color, and especially in the Global South. Chevron’s massive pollution of the Amazon region in Ecuador was staggering.

But to add insult to injury, the U.S. transnational corporation subsequently refused to pay the $9.5B judgment found against it by the Ecuadorian judicial system.

The 1995 summary execution of the Nigerian Ogoni Nine and the role Shell played in these crimes also remains shameful. Equally disturbing is the assassination of Berta Cáceres and four other Honduran activists fighting the construction of a dam financed by international financial institutions who for years claimed no culpability for the dam project’s human rights abuses.

But if this treaty can tip the scales on these and other abuses around the world, all eyes must be on this week’s process to expose corporate interference and the efforts of governments operating in bad faith.

Here are four things to pay close attention to:

    1. Attempts to water down the treaty: After multiple attempts at holding global corporations accountable over the past few decades, governments have finally reached the phase of negotiating the text of the treaty. This is groundbreaking.

    But as with any negotiation, the devil will be in the details. We must guard against any amendments to the draft text that would weaken its potential to hold transnational corporations accountable.

    2. Broadening the scope may sow confusion: The latest draft has expanded the scope to include national-level businesses in addition to transnational corporations. Such a change could result in heightened political tensions among governments, and risks diluting the focus on regulating transnational corporations—which is the stated purpose of the 2014 Human Rights Council Resolution 26/9 that is the basis of this negotiation.

    3. Negotiating in bad faith: The European Union has time and again tried to shut the process down and has stood in opposition of the treaty despite its own parliament’s support for it. They will likely be joined in their opposition by industry trade groups such as the International Organisation of Employers and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the ICC also being a well-known obstructionist in other U.N. Fora like the UNFCCC. Business organizations like the ICC represent some of the most abusive corporations in the world—including Dow, Chevron, and Shell—which have been implicated in serious human rights violations.

    4. A growing and unrelenting movement: Civil Society will also be mobilizing broadly to make sure we have a robust process and a strong binding treaty. Watch for the efforts and interventions in particular of the Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity (Global Campaign) and the Treaty Alliance. The Global Campaign’s seven key proposals for a strong treaty are vital to ensure the text delivers what the world needs.

If successful, this week in Geneva will be a pivotal moment in upholding the primacy of human rights over corporate profits. It would be a lasting victory for the global movement to stop corporate abuse and would help foster a world in which all people can live up to their full potential and in harmony with earth’s vital natural systems.

Footnote:

The United Nations (UN) Inter-governmental Working Group (IGWG) discussing a treaty on “transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights,”(1) enters its fifth round of negotiations this week from 15-19 October at the UN Human Rights Council.

During this session, UN member states will negotiate the second draft of this ground-breaking treaty that aims to hold transnational corporations to account for their human rights violations.

Interest in this process continues to grows as evidenced in the significant presence of UN member states delegates, civil society and elected officials worldwide.

321 members of regional and national parliaments, as well as municipal authorities, have endorsed the Call of People’s Representatives Worldwide for the UN Binding Treaty.