Toxic crops affect food supply in southern Africa

More and more people may be effected by a lack of maize due to an increase in toxic chemicals in crops in southern Africa.

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Five-year-old Mlandela Mukorera, searches for loose kernels among discarded maize at the Mbare informal market in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Food crops in southern Africa are becoming more toxic, which can lead to health problems in humans and animals, scientists have warned.

A new report released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) explains how food crops are generating more chemical compounds, which in the long term, can affect those consuming it.

“Crops are responding to drought conditions and increases in temperature just like humans do when faced with a stressful situation,” explained Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist and director of the Division of Early Warning and Assessment at UNEP

The southern African region is suffering from its worst drought in more than 100 years with crops, animals and humans adversely affected by the abnormally high temperatures caused by the worst reported episodes of El Niño on record.

Prolonged droughts prevent plants from converting nitrates into nutritious amino acids and proteins, causing these nitrates to accumulate in the plants. Too many nitrates in a diet can interfere with the ability of red blood cells to transport oxygen in the body, the report says. 

Subsistence farmer Joice Chimedza harvests maize on her small plot in Norton, a farming area outside Zimbabwe's capital Harare.

The new findings do not bode well for the more than 30 million people who are already starving due to poor crop yields and an inadequate amount of food aid.

Maize, wheat, barley, soybeans and millet are some of the crops that are susceptible to amassing these nitrates.

With maize production at an all-time low due to three bad consecutive harvests, the region’s staple food is under more threat with these chemical toxins.

Countries like Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia, have already declared drought emergencies to allow aid agencies to assist with food supply to the regions.

The Red Cross has estimated that more than 28 million people are currently facing food insecurity across the region

“It is vitally important for us to remember that there are people behind these statistics,” said Michael Charles, acting regional representative for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “Malnutrition in children is already high, and stunting rates are above 20 percent. More than 12 million people are living with HIV across southern Africa and are in need of nutritional food so they can take their medication without getting sick.”

TRTWorld and agencies