Key stakeholders drawn from agricultural research and regulatory bodies of pesticides have lauded the efforts made so far by IITA and partners in developing a natural, safe, and cost-effective biological control product to contain aflatoxin―the deadly cancer-causing chemical in some of the country’s staple crops.
This was at the end of a two-day meeting organized by IITA to create awareness and bring the stakeholders up to date on the development of aflasafe™, the biocontrol product for Tanzania, and to get their support and cooperation.
Aflatoxin is produced by Aspergillus flavus, a fungus which is found naturally in the soil and attacks crops, mostly grains such as maize and nuts such as groundnut, while in the field and in storage.
Fortunately not all strains of Aspergillus flavus produce aflatoxin. Aflasafe™ is made up of these nontoxin strains which are able to outcompete, displace, and significantly reduce the population of their toxic relatives in the field and in storage.
The first day of the meeting took place at the IITA-EA hub in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where participants were warmly welcomed by Edward Kanju on behalf of Victor Manyong, the Hub Director. They were then briefed on the development of aflasafe™ and on the progress of work to date in Tanzania. They also toured the pathology laboratory and saw demonstrations on the development of the biocontrol product and to test for aflatoxin.
The second day was a field visit to Kilosa District, Central Tanzania, to sites where aflasafe™ was being tested in the field. First, the team made a courtesy call on the Kilosa District Commissioner, Mr Eliya Tarimo, who was very happy to hear of the initiated trials in Kilosa to deal with the deadly poison that affects groundnut―his favorite food―and maize, a major staple crop in the region. He assured the team of his support for Kilosa to become an aflatoxin-free zone. They then proceeded to the field to see the application of aflasafe™ in the field and the sporulation of some that had been applied earlier.
According to George Mahuku, IITA Plant Pathologist, the biocontrol technology was developed in the United States, where it is being used successfully, and IITA and partners including the United States Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) have adapted it for use in many African countries, under the aflasafe trademark. These countries include Nigeria where a modular plant to produce aflasafe™ has been constructed at IITA in Ibadan, and in Kenya, where the construction of such a plant began after the ground-breaking ceremony held towards the end of last year.
“In Tanzania we have also made a lot of progress as we now have identified eight isolates of the nontoxic Aspergillus flavus which have been used to make two compounds (each with four isolates) and we have started their field testing after receiving all the necessary approval,” he said. “We will then identify the most effective ones to package into the biocontrol solution.”
Beatrice Pallangyo, a Senior Research Officer at the National Biocontrol Program at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, said she was very happy with the progress made in the development of the biocontrol agent which she said was a safe and effective way to deal with the deadly aflatoxins.
She assured the stakeholders that all the necessary steps had been taken and will be taken in ensuring that the product was safe for the people.
“We cannot find a solution to one problem by introducing another,” she said.
Overall, the meeting was deemed a success and the stakeholders were very happy and very positive about the prospects of an aflatoxin biocontrol. They agreed to have another meeting once the results from the field trials were available―around October and November.
The meeting was held on 7-8 May and was attended by nearly 30 participants from different regulatory bodies of the Tanzanian government, including the Tanzania Bureau of Standards, (TBS), the Tanzania Food and Drug Administration (TFDA), the Tanzania Pest Research Institute (TPRI), the Ministry of Agriculture, and Sokoine University of Agriculture.