Aflatoxin contamination affects 4.5 billion people across the developing world. Among the most carcinogenic substances known, aflatoxins are produced by a group of molds known as the Aspergillus fungi that are commonly found in grains such as maize. When ingested, aflatoxins may cause a myriad of health issues, such as cancer, and in extreme cases, death. In Nigeria, where smallholder farmers produce over 70% of the nation’s maize crop, it is estimated that a high percentage of the nation’s maize is contaminated by aflatoxin.
Technologies to combat aflatoxin contamination have been sought for decades. In Nigeria, an environmentally safe technology to reduce aflatoxin contamination of crops has been developed using beneficial fungi that displace toxigenic fungi. This technology is called Aflasafe™. However, various barriers to market, including consumer awareness, affordability, and a lack of contamination limits, amongst other reasons, have prevented widespread adoption of Aflasafe™ and other available technologies.
The Nigeria Aflasafe™ Pilot is a 5-year, US $12.68 million pull mechanism that works to incentivize smallholder farmers to adopt Aflasafe™. AgResults offers a per unit payment premium to aggregators and grain traders for each metric ton of high Aflasafe™ maize (i.e., maize grains containing a high proportion of beneficial fungi). By motivating smallholder farmers to use Aflasafe™ and providing technical assistance, aggregators help smallholder farmers to produce high-Aflasafe™ maize which is healthy and aflatoxin free. The Nigeria Pilot is managed by Adebowale Akande.
Dr. Peter Cotty of the United States Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), developed a biological control technology based on non-toxin producing (atoxigenic) strains of the fungus Aspergillus flavus. When applied in the field, the atoxigenic strains out-compete toxigenic strains and limit aflatoxin contamination. The technology was originally developed and registered in the United States for use in cottonseed, maize, and pistachio.
Dr. Ranajit Bandyopadhyay of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), together with Dr. Cotty adapted the technology for Africa. Dr. Bandyopadhyay and his team at IITA collected and evaluated over 50,000 A. flavus isolates to identify widely distributed and locally adapted native atoxigenic groups and simultaneously worked with biopesticide regulators to register biocontrol products that could be used to combat aflatoxin contamination across Africa. This culminated in the registration of Aflasafe™ in Nigeria. Aflasafe™ was widely tested by several thousand maize and groundnut farmers to demonstrate the effectiveness of the product in reducing aflatoxin contamination. Other Aflasafe products have been registered for use in Kenya, Senegal, The Gambia, and Burkina Faso. Registration of Aflasafe products for Ghana, Zambia, and Tanzania is expected to take place in 2017.