AU Commission awards UNZA K9.3m research grant

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The African Union Commission has awarded the University of Zambia (UNZA) a grant contract worth K9,336,06.94 to research “Diversity of Aspergillus species and aflatoxin contamination along maize and groundnut value chains in Eastern and Southern Africa”.

According to a statement availed by UNZA’s public relations manager Damaseke Chibale, the project will address food safety and health issues in communities caused by the fungi species Aspergillus, which produces aflatoxin prevalent in maize and groundnuts.

“This new project will enhance understanding of the prevalence and distribution of aflatoxins, their impact and mitigation strategies along the maize and groundnut value chains in Eastern and Southern Africa. This project will be managed by the School of Agricultural Sciences and Directorate of Research and Graduate Studies at the University of Zambia,” Chibale stated.

“Assistant Director for Research, Directorate of Research and Graduate Studies and Senior Lecturer in the School of Agricultural Sciences at the University of Zambia, Dr Alice Mutiti Mweetwa, says that Aflatoxins are poisons produced by Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus which are certain type of fungi.”

The Aflatoxins affect maize grain during their transportation and storage, while groundnuts are equally affected at growing stage through the pods as well as during transportation and storage, according to the statement.

Chibale added that concerns were being raised by communities on the negative health impact Aflatoxins since it is found in animal feeds, maize and groundnuts.

“Due to the poisonous nature of Aflatoxins, there is growing concern about food safety and public health issues as many communities in the dry lands are at high risk. This is because Aflatoxins can also be found in food products of groundnuts and maize such as oils, peanut butter, groundnut powder, mealie meal and animal feeds from these produce,” explained Chibale.

“Currently, there is a knowledge gap in developing countries due to inadequate resources and insufficient capacity for aflatoxin analyses. Consequently, few data are reported from developing countries and those available are usually based on only a limited number of samples from a certain geographical location in a given country.
In March, 2018, a call for proposals was made to which UNZA responded as the lead applicant under the leadership of Principle Investigator, Dr Alice Mutiti Mweetwa, Assistant Director for Research, Directorate of Research and Graduate Studies and Senior Lecturer in the School of Agricultural Sciences at UNZA. Other members of the consortium include, National Semi Arid Resources Research Institute (Uganda), Haramaya University (Ethiopia), Busitema University (Uganda) and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Malawi). Out of 295 applicants, only nine (9) were awarded, among which was the University of Zambia and its partners.”

According to the statement, the African Union Research Grants Programme is financed through the Financing Agreement between the European Commission and the African Union Commission under the Pan-African Programme based on Regulation (EU) No 233/2014 establishing a financing instrument for the development cooperation (DCI) for the period 2014-2020.

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