Across East Africa, more than 100 million people depend on maize as a staple food. Sorghum and groundnuts are other vital sources of food here.
But maize, sorghum and groundnuts are susceptible to accumulation of aflatoxins, chemicals produced by a fungus that are toxic when eaten. These chemicals can cause cancer, are lethal in high doses, and may suppress immune systems, reduce nutrient absorption and stunt the development of infants.
Aflatoxins are estimated to contaminate 25 per cent of the global food supply, with 4.5 billion people–primarily in developing countries–exposed to high, unmonitored levels. Aflatoxin-contaminated foods also restrict trade. Tightened European regulations, for example, were estimated to reduce African exports of cereals, dried fruits and nuts by USD670 million.
Scientists across the region are taking steps to address the threat aflatoxins pose to food safety, and thereby to food security.
Capacity and Action for Aflatoxin Reduction in Eastern Africa (CAAREA) is one such initiative. Led by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub in Nairobi, Kenya, CAAREA has established the first shared regional mycotoxin analytical platform.
‘Through this program, researchers combating the scourge of aflatoxins in African food and feed supplies have access to the tools and capacity they need to help them tackle the problem’, said Jagger Harvey, a scientist at the BecA-ILRI Hub.
The mycotoxin platform, established with funding from Australia, is developing cost-effective methods to detect aflatoxin contamination in maize and maize products and developing and deploying a range of tools to reduce aflatoxins in the food supply.
Read a brief about this program: Strengthening regional research capacity to improve food safety.
Read a related ILRI news article and view filmed highlights from a media briefing on aflatoxins in Kenya held in Nov 2013.
Read a series of 19 briefs released Nov 2013 by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and its 2020 Vision initiative jointly with the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Health and Nutrition (A4NH), which is led by IFPRI, with a component on Agriculture-Associated Diseases led by Delia Grace, of ILRI. Grace co-edited the series of briefs, co-authored the overview (Tackling Aflatoxins) and wrote the brief on Animals and Aflatoxins. Two other ILRI scientists, Jagger Harvey and Benoit Gnonlonfin, of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-ILRI Hub, in Nairobi, Kenya, are two of the authors of the brief on Improving Diagnostics for Aflatoxin Detection.
Here are links to all 19 IFPRI-2020 Initiative-A4NH briefs:
1. Tackling Aflatoxins: An Overview of Challenges and Solutions
by Laurian Unnevehr and Delia Grace (ILRI)
2. Aflatoxicosis: Evidence from Kenya
by Abigael Obura
3. Aflatoxin Exposure and Chronic Human Diseases: Estimates of Burden of Disease
by Felicia Wu
4. Child Stunting and Aflatoxins
by Jef L Leroy
5. Animals and Aflatoxins
by Delia Grace (ILRI)
6. Managing Mycotoxin Risks in the Food Industry: The Global Food Security Link
by David Crean
7. Farmer Perceptions of Aflatoxins: Implications for Intervention in Kenya
by Sophie Walker and Bryn Davies
8. Market-led Aflatoxin Interventions: Smallholder Groundnut Value Chains in Malawi
by Andrew Emmott
9. Aflatoxin Management in the World Food Programme through P4P Local Procurement
by Stéphane Méaux, Eleni Pantiora and Sheryl Schneider
10. Reducing Aflatoxins in Africa’s Crops: Experiences from the Aflacontrol Project
by Clare Narrod
11. Cost-Effectiveness of Interventions to Reduce Aflatoxin Risk
by Felicia Wu
12. Trade Impacts of Aflatoxin Standards
by Devesh Roy
13. Codex Standards: A Global Tool for Aflatoxin Management
by Renata Clarke and Vittorio Fattori
14. The Role of Risk Assessment in Guiding Aflatoxin Policy
by Delia Grace (ILRI) and Laurian Unnevehr
15. Mobilizing Political Support: Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa
by Amare Ayalew, Wezi Chunga and Winta Sintayehu
16. Biological Controls for Aflatoxin Reduction
by Ranajit Bandyopadhyay and Peter J Cotty
17. Managing Aflatoxin Contamination of Maize: Developing Host Resistance
by George Mahuku, Marilyn L Warburton, Dan Makumbi and Felix San Vicente
18. Reducing Aflatoxins in Groundnuts through Integrated Management and Biocontrol
by Farid Waliyar, Moses Osiru, Hari Kishan Sudini and Samuel Njoroge
19. Improving Diagnostics for Aflatoxin Detection
by Jagger Harvey (BecA-ILRI Hub), Benoit Gnonlonfin (BecA-ILRI Hub), Mary Fletcher, Glen Fox, Stephen Trowell, Amalia Berna, Rebecca Nelson and Ross Darnell
Photo caption: A researcher preparing maize seeds for an aflatoxins test at the BecA-ILRI Hub laboratories in Nairobi, Kenya (credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).