IITA and partners recently launched a project that will provide farmers in Nigeria and Kenya with a natural, safe, and cost-effective solution to prevent the contamination of maize and groundnut by a cancer-causing poison, aflatoxin. It is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Aflatoxin is produced by a fungus (Aspergillus flavus). It damages human health and is a barrier to trade and economic growth. The toxin, however, is not produced in all strains of the fungus. The projectâ€™s biocontrol technology introduces nontoxic strains of the fungus in the affected fields. These â€œgood guysâ€ overpower and reduce the â€œbad guys,â€ the population of toxic strains, drastically reducing the rate of contamination.
During the launching of the project, Wilson Songa, Agricultural Secretary in Kenyaâ€™s Ministry of Agriculture, said that Kenya welcomed the initiative after recent losses of lives and millions of tons of maize to aflatoxin contamination.
â€œKenya has become a hotspot of aflatoxin contamination. Since 2004, nearly 150 people have died after eating contaminated maize,â€ he said.
IITA had worked with the United States Department of Agriculture to develop a biocontrol solution for aflatoxin, testing it in many fields in Nigeria. The project will take the biocontrol product, commercialize it, and make it available to farmers.
Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, IITAâ€™s plant pathologist, says the project is adding value to previous investments in biocontrol. It will support the final stage of commercialization of aflasafeâ„¢ in Nigeria and selection of the most effective strains, development of a biocontrol product, and gathering of data on efficacy in Kenya.
The Nigerian government has joined forces with IITA and the World Bank to help contain the contamination of food crops by aflatoxins.
The collaboration will make aflasafeâ„¢ available to farmers to greatly reduce the aflatoxin menace.
The new approach is part of the Commercial Agriculture Development Program supported by the World Bank and implemented in Kano, Kaduna, Enugu, Cross River, and Lagos States in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, produce from resource-poor maize farmers faces rejection from the premium food market because of aflatoxin contamination.
In on-farm research trials in Kaduna Stateâ€”north-central Nigeriaâ€”during 2009 and 2010, farmers who treated their fields with aflasafeâ„¢ were able to reduce the levels of contamination by 80 to 90%.
Aflatoxin management website – www.aflasafe.com