By Dr. Boaz Waswa, Senior Scientist – Pan Africa Bean Research Alliance

According to FAO, foodborne diseases affect 1 in 10 people worldwide each year. Over 600 million people fall sick due to various foodborne illnesses. In addition, foodborne illness is responsible for 420,000 preventable deaths every year. The high economic, health and social cost of consuming unsafe food calls for research and development to reduce food contamination.

World Food Safety Day will be celebrated on 7 June 2022. This year’s theme, “Safer food, better health” highlights the role safe, nutritional food plays in ensuring human health and well-being and calls for a set of specific actions to make food safer.

Food safety starts on the farm and ends with the consumer. Aligning interventions along the commodity value chain ensures that food is produced and processed in clean and healthy environment thus guaranteeing the consumers a healthy diet.

The Pan Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) developed the Bean Corridor Approach to resolve challenges along the bean value chain from production to consumption. Our research on beans has led to the release of 33 bean varieties in Kenya to ensure that the beans produced are of high nutritional content, are acceptable by the consumers and markets, are climate smart and produced under safe conditions. The work on beans draws in all the bean value chain stakeholders from researchers, producers, aggregators, transporters, processors, consumers, and policy makers to find solutions to production and healthy diets.

Delivering safe beans to the consumers

PABRA research for development has several entry points for delivering nutritious and safe beans to the consumers.

Breeding for resistance to pest and diseases:

Conferring to plants ability to resist pest and diseases through breeding is one of the ways PABRA ensures safe beans to the world. Beans are prone to disease such as rust, anthracnose, root rots, Bean Common Mosaic Virus (BCMV) and Bean Common Mosaic and Necrotic Virus (BCMNV), angular leaf spot, blights among others. PABRA works with the Kenya Agricultural Research and Livestock Organization (KALRO) to develop bean varieties that are tolerant to a wide range of pests and diseases. For example, the varieties KK8 and KK194 were bred for root rot resistance, a major disease problem in western Kenya region. Bean varieties resistant or tolerant to pest and diseases demand less use of agrochemicals and thus contributing to safer foods for all.

Planting seed infected by disease could lead to complete crop failure. Such also demands extensive use of agrochemicals to control the disease in the field. The disease problem can be minimized by growing disease-free seed. PABRA has continued to work with KALRO to produce high quality breeding materials used by private seed companies to produce certified seed. Over the last ten years, the number of seed companies dealing in bean seed has increased from 2 to 7 and includes the following Agriscope (formerly East Africa Seed), Kenya Seed Company, Bubayi Seeds, Western Seed Company, Dryland Seed Limited in Machakos, SeedCo among others. By using clean seed, the risk of disease incidences is reduced meaning that use of agrochemicals is also minimized.

Promotion of good agricultural practices as a food safety measure

Crop monitoring is the foundation of any integrated pest and disease management program. Crop monitoring provides heightened awareness of pest presence, activity, and control. It helps identify incidence and severity of pest and disease before they reach high levels of economic loss. Early detection can help reduce pesticide use by eliminating unnecessary, routine applications, and assures that pesticides are applied at the proper life-cycle stage to ensure effectiveness.

A healthy plant can grow stronger and protect itself from pest and disease attack. Farmers can adopt Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) to ensure healthy crops and lower the risk of contaminating produce with dangerous pathogens or agrochemicals. By following GAPs, from field preparation through harvest and marketing – the risk of contaminating produce can be greatly reduced.

PABRA has invested in training the bean producers to adopt Integrated crop management and integrated pest and disease management (IPDM) practices that advocate for building diverse and resilient systems to drought, pest, and diseases. Key to a pest and disease-free farm is farm hygiene where the farm is kept weed free and at right crop density and spacing.

With changing climate, timely planting can help evade adverse weather that predisposes beans to disease attack. It can also help evade periods of high pest and disease attack to beans. Promoting soil health improvement ensures that beans are healthy and able to fight off pest and diseases attacks. Other aspects include crop diversification, rotation and intercropping to take advantage of natural repellants and physical barriers for insect control.

Seed Treatment

High incidence of pest and diseases has pushed farmers to use more agrochemicals to increase crop productivity. Whereas beneficial, improper use of agrochemical can result in food contamination and poisoning. There is need to training farmers on the safe and proper use of the agrochemicals.

Technologies such as seed treatment with both chemical and biological solutions are ways of reducing the overall chemical use on the farms. Seed dressing or treatments consist of the application of biological, physical, and chemical agents and techniques to seed to provide protection and improve the establishment of healthy crops. These include fungicides, insecticides, inoculants, plant growth regulators, fertilizers, and fertilizer enhancers.

The chemical treatment guards seed and seedling against many seed and soil-borne plant pathogens the various seed rots and seedling blights that occur during early establishment. Chemical seed treatment protects the bean seed and seedling during the initial development stages from attack by pest and diseases minimizing multiple sprays with agrochemicals.

Seed dressing is like immunization- applying little dose of the chemical on seed before planting to build protection and immunity. Studies have shown that the amount required for chemical seed treatment is relatively low in the range of 5 to 10% compared to that applied in furrow or foliar sprays. With the reduction in the amount of chemicals used, effective seed priming technologies can be cost-effective and ecologically sustainable especially to the resource-poor farmers. Seed treatment confers to plants other benefits such as increased germination, uniform seedling emergence, and breaking dormancy. Examples of chemical seed dressing products for beans in Kenya include Apron Star 42WS, SeedPlus, Murtano Super, Cruiser 350FS, Marshal 35DS, Treaty among others.

Biological seed treatment also referred to as biofertilizers includes use of products containing beneficial microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria, as well as plant and algae extracts. The microbes stimulate rapid root development and nutrient uptake by the growing crop. Some of the biological agents for seed dressing include Trichoderma spp., Rhizobium spp., Bacillus subtilis, Psedomonas flourescens, Azospirillum spp., Neem, and seaweed extracts. Examples of biological seed dressing products in Kenya include: TriCoat, Mazao Flourish, Trianum, Biofix and LEGUMEFiX. Biological seed treatment products are environmentally friendly and easy to apply.

Food Safety at Storage

A significant proportion of food contamination and loss happens at post-harvest handling and storage. This can be from the risk of moulds and contamination from grain preservation chemicals. Food safety must start from the field with good agricultural practices that minimize chemical contamination in the final stored grain. PABRA has promoted various technologies that promote good post-harvest handling while at the same time reducing the chemical footprint in the foods. There are simple technologies to ensure the final grain is safe for storage. Proper drying of beans on tarpaulins as opposed to drying on the ground will help keep the grain clean and minimize aflatoxin contamination from soil. PABRA partners have promoted use of automated threshers where beans are threshed in more hygienic conditions compared to beating them on the ground where contamination risk is high. Use of solar bubble driers (SDB) developed by Grainpro is aimed to protect the beans from exposure to rain or animal droppings and quickens drying of grain thus minimizing aflatoxin contamination.

The use of hermitic non-chemical storage technologies also helps minimize use of chemicals preservatives. PABRA partners have demonstrated and promoted the use of hermitic storage bags ands silos. Hermetic Storage is a method of using sealed, airtight units to control moisture and insects in stored dry grain. The hermetic storage restricts gas exchanges between the internal and external environments and the stored commodity, maintaining the initial levels of moisture and controlling pests by the lack of oxygen. Several companies in Kenya are commercialized hermitic storage bags. Some of these include PICS from Bell Industries, AgroZ Bag Plus, SuperGrain Bags from GrainPro, among others. Grain store in the hermitic storage bags can be preserved for upto 2 years with no need to use chemical preservatives. This ensure that households can keep their grain chemical free.

Safe Processing

Food processing is a critical area that will determine how safe the food is. PABRA works with several companies processing beans into various products such as polished and packed beans, precooked beans, frozen ready to eat beans, bean flour, snacks, noodles among others. Food safety is a key component of any food processing and so PABRA works with these companies on product development, packaging, and marketing. Other ways have been through educating the companies on why the need food safety assessments such as the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) analysis for their products. HACCP is a management system in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards from raw material production, procurement, and handling, to manufacturing, distribution, and consumption of the finished product. This has been a critical step in meeting national food production standards set out by Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS).

Achieving food safety and healthy diets is our collective responsibility. As we celebrate the World Food Safety Day, we join the world in advocating for safe and healthy diets for all. Let us ensure that production to consumption is done in a safe and healthy manner.

What are some of the methods you are using to ensure your food is safe?