Experts Deliberate How to Make Food and Feed Free of Aflatoxins in Africa

Katherine Lopez

A team of scientists from 13 African nations and beyond have gathered in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, this week to advance efforts to improve the health of Africans by reducing exposure to aflatoxins.

The participants of this Second Aflatoxin Biocontrol Workers’ Network Workshop are focusing on progress made in rolling out Aflasafe, an effective and safe biological control product which reduces the prevalence of aflatoxins in treated maize and groundnut by 80 – 99% from farm to fork.

“The workshop participants will take stock of the current status of aflasafe development in various countries, discuss research protocols, and provide a platform to network and understand each other’s work. The result will be a shared understanding of the needs for future developments of biocontrol in Africa,” said Dr Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, Senior Plant Pathologist, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)- Nigeria, and team leader of IITA’s aflasafe projects.

Aflatoxins are highly toxic chemicals produced mainly by fungi in several food crops. Aflatoxins cause cancer and liver disease, suppress the body’s immune system, retard the growth of children, and in cases of extreme poisoning, lead to rapid death of both humans and livestock.

Aflatoxins also hamper trade. Globally, about US$1.2 billion in commerce is lost annually due to aflatoxin contamination, with African economies losing US$450 million each year due to lost trade.

The biological control method for aflatoxin control was developed by United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and modified for Africa by IITA, USDA-ARS, and many national and regional partners.

The biocontrol product uses native strains of A. flavus that do not produce aflatoxins but are able to out-compete and displace their aflatoxin producing relative, thus reducing contamination in crops and throughout the environment.

“Biological control products such as Aflasafe provide farmers with a safe, simple solution that protects their crops on the farm and in storage saving them a long list of tasks to carry out to prevent their crops from being contaminated with aflatoxins,” said Prof Peter Cotty, a Research Plant Pathologist at USDA-ARS, who pioneered the original technology.

Aflatoxin contamination is particularly a major problem in sub-Saharan Africa where it greatly threatens efforts to achieve food security and reduce poverty in the rural communities. In East Africa major fatalities and economic losses have been incurred recently due to aflatoxin contamination.

In Tanzania, recent media reports suggest that nine people died and many others fell ill from suspected aflatoxin poisoning, while in Kenya over 400,000 bags of maize in government stores have been reported to be contaminated and not fit for human consumption.

The effectiveness of biocontrol has seen products developed and registered for commercial use in Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and The Gambia while other countries such as Burundi, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia are in the process of product development and registration.

The four-day workshop, 11 – 14 July, is funded by the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of USDA and IITA, and brings together over 50 participants including include researchers, farmers’ groups, national program partners, officials from regional and international organizations, policy makers, and donors. The workshop follows an earlier one held at the USDA-ARS labs at the University of Arizona, USA in 2012.

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