The Maize food supply chain in Ghana: From farm to breakfast table

A maize farmer explaining a point on aflatoxins control using the communication manual

A maize farmer
explaining a point
on aflatoxins
control using the

MAIZE is one of the most important staple food crop grown in Ghana that meets the nutritional needs of both humans and livestock. It is a rich source of energy, vitamins and some amount of protein.

Maize ensures food security

According to Coulter et al. (1993), maize is a staple crop grown in almost all parts of the Country, and is the most important source of carbohydrate in most Ghanaian meals. The economic importance of maize and its role in ensuring food security in Ghana cannot be over emphasized.

However, contamination of maize by aflatoxins, a type of mycotoxin in maize production is a major concern to Businesses, Government and the International Community because high content of mycotoxin in food renders it unsafe for consumption.

When moldy grains are consumed by humans, they stand the risk of falling ill and/or developing diseases with fatal consequences. In the case of consumption by children, their growth is impaired and stunted and they are underweight. Toxins can be secreted in milk putting lactating babies also at risk.

Apart from its effect on humans, it also has some repercussions on trade. It discolors grains leading to reducing its economic value thus reducing income of farmers. This also results in direct food losses as the nutrient content of the grains is also reduced.

The disposal of such foods also constitutes an economic loss in food production.

Multi-Stakeholder action across sectors to ensure food security and safety: The Case of Nestlé Ghana

Stakeholders in the Agricultural Sector and the food value chain are making efforts to educate farmers, especially smallholder farmers, on best agronomic practices to reduce or eliminate aflatoxins in maize.

One of such key Stakeholders is Nestlé; the world’s biggest Food and Beverage Company, which relies on millions of farmers around the world for supply of agricultural raw materials needed for its production in order to fulfil its global purpose of “enhancing quality of life and contributing to a healthier future”.

In the past, local sourcing of grains by Nestlé Ghana for the production of its cereal-based complementary baby foods was challenging. This was mainly due to the cereals being highly contaminated with mycotoxins, fungal-based toxic compounds which did not meet Nestlé’s strict raw materials sourcing specifications. To lessen the risk of contamination Nestlé in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture through its Northern Rural Growth Programme (NRGP) implemented the Grains Quality Improvement Project (GQIP). The project trained more than 58,000 farmers, including 24,000 women, 1,200 agriculture extension officers, on field and in ‘classroom type’ activities on how to address these challenges.

Mycotoxins are a widespread, natural and fungus-based contamination that can cause immune problems, impaired development in children, and liver damage in both humans and animals. About 30 per cent of cereal crops were lost to contamination caused largely by the humid environment and poor drying and storage practices.

Under the programme mobile cinemas were set up in communities to show a drama that reinforces the messages, farmers received during their training sessions. The drama featured locals using local dialects to ensure that the content was relevant, useful and meaningful to viewers.

Nestlé also developed some very simple, farmer user-friendly training materials, including posters and flyers for use by extension and other development change agents in the programme area.

Farmers’ testimonies point to the success of the education and sensitization programme:

MariamaAbdulai, a 50 year old maize farmer at Gusie in the Northern region said “The training has helped me a lot because I now produce quality grains. I used to struggle to get market for my produce because of the mycotoxin infestation but now the market is ready and the price is also good.”

“I can now pay my children’s school fees and afford to sew school uniforms. And I even have some extra income. I have even doubled my maize production from four acres to eight acres,” she said.

SaratuMahamadu, a widow with five children who cultivates maize and millet said “Before the training I was harvesting only 20 bags of maize from my five acre maize farm, but the training has helped me to scale up to 40 bags because I now know how to properly treat the crops to get the desired yield. We now understand why Nestlé was rejecting our grains. Because they are conscious about health and nutrition,” she said.

In December 2016, Nestlé signed a new partnership agreement with USAID-ADVANCE, to build capacity of smallholder farmers to grow varieties of maize that are aflatoxin free.

The Grains Quality Improvement Project (GQIP) now the Nestlé Cereal Plan aims to ensure a continuous supply of safe and high-quality agricultural raw materials, help rural communities to increase their income, and reduce the level of mycotoxins in grains and legumes.

For Nestlé, food quality, security and safety are non-negotiable priorities hence subjecting its process of production from the farm to the fork to strict standards.

Building capacity in nutrition knowledge as an important component of food safety and security

Nestlé ensures that its products meet the nutritional requirement of consumers. “In fact nutrition is very important to us, so we ensure that only quality grains are used in the manufacture of cereals for babies,” Philippe Hascoet, Business Executive Officer, Nutrition for Nestlé Nutrition in Central and West Africa.

Nestlé is helping to boost the expertise of healthcare professionals in Central and West Africa through a number of training programmes, scientific symposiums, conferences and workshops covering topics that are related to maternal and infant nutrition and health.

The company is doing this through the Nestlé Nutrition African Institute (NNIA), which is part of the Nestlé Nutrition Institute (NNI). The NNI is a non-profit organisation that offers a variety of on-and offline unbranded educational services to healthcare professionals, with a focus on the first 1,000 days of life from conception to the child’s second birthday.

The NNIA aims to train African paediatricians and healthcare professionals on gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition to boost their competences in these specific areas.

Industrial Food Management Systems that ensure quality cereals from quality grains

At the manufacturing level, Nestlé applies internationally recognized Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) to ensure quality and food safety. GMP covers all aspects of manufacturing, including standard operating procedures, people management and training, equipment maintenance, and handling of materials.

“At Nestlé, our quality management system begins from the farm.  We want to ensure that whatever we put on the market is of the highest quality,” The Factory Manager for Nestlé Ghana, GbengaOladunjoye said at my visit to the factory at Tema.

In Summary, Nestlé’s programme has helped to protect and enhanced the livelihood of smallholder farmers while protecting their income from the fluctuations in prices due to diseased maize.

By David Adadevoh

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