Exposure to aflatoxins is frequent and widespread in most African countries. It causes human (and livestock) illness and can be fatal. Staple grains such as maize are particularly vulnerable to aflatoxin contamination, which is caused by the fungus Aspergillus flavus.
In Kenya, aflatoxin contamination in maize occurs frequently both before and after harvest, especially in several aflatoxin ‘hotspots’ in the country’s coastal and eastern regions, where the toxin-producing fungus is found in the soil.
Researchers are working hard to address the threat posed by aflatoxins to human health and food security in East Africa.
For example, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the Agricultural Research Service of US Department of Agriculture (USDA-ARS), the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and several African national programs have successfully adapted a ‘bio-control’ technology against aflatoxins that was developed by USDA-ARS for use on maize and groundnut farms in various African countries.
‘Bio-control is one useful way of managing aflatoxins,’ says Charity Mutegi, a researcher with IITA who coordinates activities related to biocontrol of aflatoxins in East Africa. ‘It’s a control mechanism that targets the fungus that produces aflatoxin while the crop is still in the field.’
‘Known as “Aflasafe” in Kenya, this technology makes use of non-toxin fungi that outcompete the toxic ones,’ says Mutegi, ‘and is a key part of an integrated approach of dealing with aflatoxins.’
Bio-control technologies, in conjunction with other aflatoxin-management tools, can improve food safety, thereby improving the health of people and animals, as well as leading to greater farmer profits in the marketplace. What’s needed for widespread adoption of bio-control is a flexible and enabling system for regulating bio-pesticides as well as policy and institutional support.
Read a related ILRI news article and view filmed highlights from a media briefing on aflatoxins in Kenya held at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nov 2013.
Read more about the use of biocontrol to control aflatoxins in Kenya.
Read a series of 19 briefs released by IFPRI and its 2020 Vision initiative jointly with the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Health and Nutrition released in November 2013.
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 credit: L-strain of the Aspergillus flavus fungus (photo credit: IITA).