Certain foods sold in developing countries are often not fit for consumption due to contamination by toxins produced by fungi (mycotoxins) causing serious public health impacts, including childhood stunting, liver cancer and immune disorders.
Dr Charlie Riches, of the Natural Resources Institute, spoke on a panel for the event 'Food Safety in Developing Countries: A vital missing link in the food security debate' hosted by Twin and the All Party Parliamentary group for Agriculture and Food for Development at the Houses of Parliament.
Also on the panel were 'His Excellency' Mr Bernard Sande, High Commissioner for Malawi; the Trade Councillor of the Malawi High Commission Mr Mufwa Maurice and representatives of the Malawi National Farmers Association and Twin who are helping farmers produce and export quality groundnuts free of mycotoxins.
Charlie is a research agronomist who acts as a Liaison Scientist for the McKnight Foundation's Collaborative Crop Research Program in Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.
At the meeting he highlighted evidence from recent diagnostic surveys in East and Southern Africa of the widespread contamination of groundnuts and maize by dangerous mycotoxins in crops held in farm stores. Contamination of groundnut flour in markets and shops, a common ingredient in infant foods in the region, is also a cause of concern.
The McKnight Foundation is funding the International Crops Research Institute For the Semi-Arid Tropics in Malawi, working with local partners, to breed resistance to aflatoxin into the preferred groundnut varieties of farmers and markets.
In a closing summary, Lord Cameron and the speakers emphasised the need for long term capacity building and support to partners to build national awareness of the mycotoxin issue. Locally, it is necessary to promote production and postharvest practices to ensure access to safe food for all.
On the same day, an Early Day Motion was tabled in the Commons by Mark Durkan, MP, on Unsafe Food in the Developing World as part of efforts to encourage UK government to support moves to include targets for access to safe food.