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.