IITA builds capacity of staff and partners in Tanzania on aflatoxin control

IITA recently trained its staff, partners, and farmers in Kongwa District, Tanzania, on how to control aflatoxin using Aflasafe, an effective and safe biological control product developed by researchers at the Institute and partners.

IITA’s Greg Ogbe demonstrates how to apply aflasafe on groundnuts.
IITA’s Greg Ogbe demonstrates how to apply aflasafe on groundnuts.

Kongwa is a major maize and groundnut growing and consuming area. Both are important basic ingredients in complementary weaning foods in Tanzania.

Consumption of mycotoxin-contaminated complementary foods by children under five years has been implicated in the high rates of child growth impairment in Tanzania, manifested as stunting (42%), being underweight (16%), and wasting (5%).

Before the training, the IITA team paid a courtesy call to Jackson Shija, the District Agricultural, Irrigation and Cooperatives Officer (DAICO), who appreciated the Institute’s efforts in supporting them to tackle the aflatoxin problem in the District.

“We are very concerned about aflatoxins because maize and groundnut are staple crops in the area. Our district has the highest stunting rates in the country; 56% compared to 42%, the national average,” he said.

“Although we have been encouraging farmers to grow small grains, especially bulrush millet and sorghum, they are not willing to grow these crops, preferring instead to grow maize and groundnut. Since we have failed to persuade farmers to grow these other crops, efforts to manage aflatoxin are very welcome. Let us find a solution to make the product safe, as we know that farmers will always grow and consume maize and groundnut.”

Stakeholders at Kongwa prepare to be shown how to apply the aflasafe in the field.
Stakeholders at Kongwa prepare to be shown how to apply the aflasafe in the field.

In addition to creating awareness on aflatoxin and its health threats, the training, held 21―22 January, focused on how to conduct efficacy trials for Aflasafe. Kongwa is one of the target districts where field trials to develop an effective aflatoxin biological control product for Tanzania are being conducted.

According to George Mahuku, IITA Plant Pathologist who led the training, the participants were trained on how to set up trials, how to handle the Aflasafe product, how to apply it on maize and groundnut, what to do or not do after the application, and the types of data to collect.

For example, he said, the farmers or researchers should keep off the fields, and suspend weeding or any farm activities for two to four weeks after application to avoid burying the product in the soil and affecting its efficacy.

A total of 17 participants were trained. They included extension agents from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Kongwa District Council, the National Biological Control Program (NCPB), and farmers on whose fields validation trials were being conducted. Also conducting the training was Greg Ogbe from IITA-Nigeria, who shared his experiences from similar activities conducted in Nigeria, Ghana, and Senegal.

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.

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.

AgResults AflasafeTM team trains partners

Participants at the AgResults meeting in Ibadan
Participants at the AgResults meeting in Ibadan

The AgResults AflasafeTM team has successfully completed a 2-day training in Ibadan for its implementers. Welcoming participants, the AgResults Pilot Manager, Debo Akande, reiterated the project’s commitment to supporting and providing solutions to farmers for improving safety and increasing productivity of maize.

He described the training as a unique model to advance the biocontrol of aflatoxin to Nigerian farmers through the involvement of market players, the private sector, and other key stakeholders in maize value chain to ensure sustainability of aflasafeTM adoption.

The AgResults project seeks to promote the adoption of aflasafeTM – a biocontrol technology with a proven efficacy to reduce aflatoxin contamination in grains by as much as 90% – among smallholder maize farmers in Nigeria. The project currently works with 11 implementers from various small and micro-enterprises to disseminate the technology.

The focus of the training was to inform implementers of the project objectives and mode of operation, demonstrate method of aflasafeTM application, use of other aflatoxin management practices, maize agronomy, and business development opportunities with low-aflatoxin maize.

Mr Akande said that since over 70% of food in Nigeria was currently produced by smallholder farmers, implementers were expected to pass on this information and demonstrate it to 5,000 farming families in 2014. This would change them from subsistence farmers to becoming farmers inclined to agribusiness. He said, “We expect that 110 t of aflasafeTM will be applied on 11,000 ha of maize fields in 2014. AgResults will also provide incentives for this group of farmers to facilitate adoption of this biocontrol technology.’’

Dr Joseph Atehnkeng, Coordinator for Aflatoxin Control in West Africa; Dr Silvestro Meseka, IITA Maize Breeder; and Lawrence Kaptoge, Process Engineer AflasafeTM Manufacturing Plant, were among the key stakeholders that made presentations during the training.  They stressed the importance of good management practices while stating that bad sanitation, poor management, and improper storage were linked to high levels of aflatoxin contamination.

The AgResults project is a multilateral initiative (G-20) managed by Deloitte Monitor. The Initiative receives support from the Governments of Australia, Canada, the UK, and USA, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It aims to use results-based cash incentives – in the form of “pull mechanisms,” – to spur the adoption of innovation and technology to promote agricultural development and food security.