IITA supports Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique in developing Aflasafe to reduce aflatoxin contamination

IITA has produced and dispatched over 10 tons of experimental biological control products (Aflasafe), which will be tested in field trials for their efficacy to reduce aflatoxin contamination in three countries in Eastern and Southern Africa. The production took place at IITA’s research facilities in Tanzania.

Team at IITA Tanzania preparing the Aflasafe in the laboratory.
Team at IITA Tanzania preparing the Aflasafe in the laboratory.

This is part of the Institute’s efforts to develop a sustainable and safe technology to reduce aflatoxin contamination prevalent in two of the most important key staple crops, maize and groundnut. Aflatoxin is a deadly poison produced by certain types of mold and is known to cause cancer and stunting in children, among other health problems.

IITA, in partnership with USDA-ARS and local national institutions, has successfully adapted the biocontrol technology and developed a biocontrol product with the generic name Aflasafe, which reduces aflatoxin contamination of groundnut and maize consistently by >80%. Currently, the product is registered for use in Nigeria and Kenya.

The biological control product is made from strains of the mold, Aspergillus flavus, that do not produce aflatoxin. These good strains outcompete and displace aflatoxin-producing strains of Aspergillus, thus reducing aflatoxin contamination of important food security crops like maize.

For each country two formulations of the biological control product were produced: (i) a country specific product using strains only found in that country, and (ii) a regional product produced from strains from that country, but these strains
also occur in other countries. For Malawi these were MW02 and MWMZ01—the former was made from strains that are specific to Malawi while the latter was made from region-specific strains. Similarly in Mozambique MZ02 and MWMZ01 were produced and dispatched. In Tanzania, TZ01 made from region-specific strains and TZ02 made from strains that are specific to Tanzania, were produced.

The experimental biological control products will be validated for efficacy to control aflatoxin in groundnut and maize. Both crops are staples in the three countries and are also highly susceptible to aflatoxin contamination. The biological control products will be tested this growing season and the data collected will go towards identifying the best formulation to control aflatoxins. After more validation tests the products will be registered and made available for wider use.

The atoxigenic strains were identified following rigorous tests and characterization done in IITA’s laboratories in Nigeria and USDA-ARS in Arizona, USA. These isolates lack the genes required for aflatoxin production and therefore will not produce aflatoxin in nature. Each product is made up of four atoxigenic strains that are widely distributed in each country and belong to different classes.

To produce the biological control product, atoxigenic strains of A. flavus are coated on roasted sorghum, which acts as a carrier of the product. The sorghum is roasted to prevent it from germinating when applied in the field. A polymer to
stick the spores of the fungus to the sorghum and a dye, a natural food colorant, are added. The final product looks blue (from the blue dye) and is readily distinguished from untreated sorghum.

Women sift sorghum that will be roasted and used as a carrier for the aflasafe.
Women sift sorghum that will be roasted and used as a carrier for the aflasafe.

“The production of 10 tons of aflasafe was by no means easy as we had to do it manually—it was three weeks of back-breaking work for our staff, partners, and other hired laborers,” said George Mahuku, IITA’s Plant Pathologist, who led the efforts.

They also received support from IITA staff in Nigeria where IITA already has a plant to produce Aflasafe. “However, we are very happy and proud of our efforts and the impact it will have in reducing aflatoxins, a major problem in the three countries,” Mahuku added. “It made economic sense to produce the Aflasafe in Tanzania as opposed to Nigeria as the shipping costs would be very high.” They were shipped by road to the two countries.

“How Aflasafe transformed the ‘lives’ of Burkinabé farmers”

Every season, farmers assume the responsibility for providing food for the world’s population. They do this amid various challenges related to pests and diseases, soil infertility, low yield, drought, lack of credit, and many others. The situation is worse for African farmers, since many are smallholders, resource-poor, and have no formal education. IITA and partners in the last 47 years have been providing solutions through ground-breaking research that ease the stress on the farmers. One such solution is Aflasafe.

Aflasafe is a natural biological control product that can reduce aflatoxin contamination in crops by up to 99%. Aflatoxins are poisons primarily produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus. They are harmful to humans and livestock and known to cause liver cancer, stunted growth in children, and in extreme cases, death. Maize and groundnut are the crops most susceptible to contamination. This problem is widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa, restricting farmers from selling their produce in the international markets unless they can meet stringent standards. Many African farmers rely on these crops for the income they need for their sustenance.

The use of Aflasafe was first piloted in Nigeria in 2009 and has since been extended to Kenya, Senegal, The Gambia, Burkina Faso, and Zambia. Product development is under way for Ghana, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, and Uganda.

Two years ago, a team of scientists from IITA and Institut de l’Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles (INERA) selected 300 farmers from four regions in Burkina Faso as models for piloting Aflasafe in the country. The tide is changing for many of these farmers who have adopted the use of the biocontrol product to grow their crops.

Namoro Arzouma, 38, a farmer from Yallé village, Sissili province, Midwest region, Burkina Faso, is the president of 20,000 farmers in the Fédération Nian Zwé (FNZ).

“When I first heard that aflatoxins could kill, I was startled, fearing for my life, because I have always consumed the bad grains from my farm. I also thought of the lives of others who eat the produce from my field. Through the training I received, I learned better farm management and processing practices,” Namoro said. ”The harvest from my field gave me so much income because the maize cobs were by far healthier and better than the previous years. I will continue to use Aflasafe.”

Encouraged by the good results, Namoro is committed to work with all African farmers to eliminate the scourge of aflatoxin from the continent. He is also using his influence as a leader to train many farmers within his network and encourage government investment in making Aflasafe available to farmers at reduced prices. Namoro and 10 other farmers from FNZ were trained by INERA and together, they have directly reached more than 2,000 farmers in one year alone.

Mrs Djama Dadioari, 47, is a farmer from Central region, Ouagadougou.

“I call it (Aflasafe) the miracle product. Before, I was unable to export my produce because of very high contamination levels. Thanks to INERA and IITA, I have learned that good management practices are essential even after producing with Aflasafe. With this, I carefully sorted my grain and was able to export some maize grain this year and also sold some to big companies. I have made so much profit just by putting extra efforts to carefully sort my maize grain,” she said.

Many organizations, research institutions, and universities worked collaboratively in the Aflasafe project in Burkina Faso. These are INERA, IITA, the United States Department of Agriculture – Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS), Vienna University of Technology, and several farmers’ organizations. The work in Burkina Faso was funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation and USDA-Foreign Agricultural Service.

Senegalese stakeholders adopt “Aflasafe SN01” in national strategy to revive groundnut exports

Senegal has a population of over 6 million people predominantly producing groundnut each year. The restrictions placed on the export of the crop to Europe, the traditional trade partner, have significantly hurt potential earnings as Senegalese groundnut could not comply with the stringent aflatoxin standard of 4 parts per billion. The situation brightened when China, with a less stringent aflatoxin standard, began to source groundnut from Senegal and became one of the country’s biggest markets.

However, hope turned into despair when the Chinese Government also banned procurement from Senegal due to an alarming abundance of aflatoxins in the imported crop. In spite of the effort to produce large quantities of groundnut to earn more income, the produce rotted in the hands of farmers who were unable to dispose of it because of aflatoxin contamination.

Dr Lamine Senghor is a member of the Aflasafe team leading the project in Senegal and working with the national Plant Protection Directorate (DPV). “In the past,” he explains, “the Chinese Government had sent businessmen to Senegal to purchase groundnut for export. The delegates ended up by rejecting many container loads because of high levels of contamination. Some exporters tried to find other entry points through Thailand and were sent to prison.”

This situation has, however, been brought under control to such an extent that the Chinese Government signed a memorandum of understanding on 3 September 2014 to accept groundnut from the region. This feat was achieved in a short time through several initiatives, including the use of IITA’s biocontrol product Aflasafe SN01.

In 2010, and for the first time in the country, the DPV in collaboration with IITA led an initiative to introduce a new biological control method to reduce aflatoxin. The biocontrol product Aflasafe SN01 contains native Aspergillus flavus strains incapable of producing aflatoxin. It was developed by IITA, the University of Thies, and the United States Department of Agriculture – Agriculture Research Service.

“The results obtained in the groundnut basin during the last five years in hundreds of farmers’ fields are encouraging, translating to a reduction of aflatoxin levels in treated fields by almost 90% compared with controls.” According to the government’s statistical reports Senegal had an increase of 84% in the volume of the country’s export of groundnut in 2014; this can partially be linked to the trust that international
markets are now building for Senegal’s “Aflasafe-grown” groundnut. Consequently, stakeholders in the national workshop organized in Dakar on 4-5 March to discuss Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures in the context of liberalization of exports of groundnut
have pledged to support the production and dissemination of Aflasafe SN01 for solving the problems linked to aflatoxin and food safety.

The forum also recommended Aflasafe SN01 for large-scale use in the country as “the only technology integrated with good agricultural practices that has effectively lowered the level of aflatoxins on groundnut as witnessed by the farmers and exporters that have used it,” Senghor reported.

The product is now being mass produced at the Aflasafe manufacturing plant at IITA in Nigeria and distributed by the private sector company SODEFITEX to farmers in Senegal. Further discussions will take place between SODEFITEX, DPV, and IITA about manufacturing Aflasafe locally to make the product more affordable and readily available while maintaining product quality.

Aflatoxin biocontrol work in Senegal is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture – Foreign Agricultural Service.

Stakeholders come together in Burkina Faso to look at biocontrol solution for aflatoxin

IITA with partners United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research in Burkina Faso (INERA) is convening a stakeholders’ conference aimed at increasing awareness of the hazards of aflatoxins, understanding the peculiarities of aflatoxin contamination in local farming areas, and promoting biocontrol mechanisms for stemming its spread in susceptible crops throughout Africa.

Key stakeholders representing various partner institutions during the opening program.
Key stakeholders representing various partner institutions during the opening program.

The stakeholders’ meeting is taking place 23–24 April at the Splendid Hotel, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Participants include producers, scientists, and private-public sector partners working directly with the aflasafe project in reaching farmers in the region and seed companies, CNRST, USDA-FAS, Nestle, and partner universities.

Aflatoxins are naturally occurring poisons produced by fungi known as Aspergillus flavus and others which contaminate the soil and crops (especially maize and groundnut). This contamination has debilitating effects on human health, lowers production of livestock and agriculture, and severely restricts trade opportunities for most farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Specific interventions in the form of biocontrol mechanisms can, however, be employed in controlling and preventing aflatoxin contamination. This approach significantly improves the security and quality of agricultural produce and increases trade opportunities for stakeholders all along the value chain.

Dr Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, IITA Pathologist (middle row, with laptop), gives an update on the aflasafe project, the factory in IITA Ibadan that produces the biocontrol product, and the market models being used in Nigeria, Kenya, and Senegal to promote access to aflasafe.
Dr Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, IITA Pathologist (middle row, with laptop), gives an update on the aflasafe project, the factory in IITA Ibadan that produces the biocontrol product, and the market models being used in Nigeria, Kenya, and Senegal to promote access to aflasafe.

IITA has adapted a biocontrol approach for Africa that changes the composition of fungal communities by letting local strains of nontoxic A. flavus (atoxigenic strains) become established in the crop environment in place of strains that produce large amounts of aflatoxin. A biocontrol product, called aflasafe BF01, for Burkina Faso was developed by
IITA and partners to reduce the rate of contamination in crops and subsequent risks.

aflasafe BF01 is a natural, simple, safe, and cost-effective product that uses native nontoxic strains to replace aflatoxin-producing fungi. Similar products are being developed or used in more than 10 other African countries. Trials of BF01 have shown a remarkable reduction in aflatoxin contamination in maize (85%) and groundnut (94%). These results have encouraged IITA and its partners to explore the opportunities for escalating the adoption of aflasafe as an effective tool in preventing the spread of aflatoxins in Burkina Faso in particular and sub-Saharan Africa in general. This can be achieved by educating stakeholders about the dangers of aflatoxins and the efficacy of aflasafe.