Aflatoxin contamination affects 4.5 billion people across the developing world. Among one of the most carcinogenic substances known, aflatoxins are released from a mold known as the Aspergillus fungi that are commonly found in grains such as maize. When ingested, and in some cases, absorbed through the skin, aflatoxins cause a myriad of fatal cancers, amongst other health issues. 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 may be contaminated by aflatoxin.
Technologies to combat aflatoxin contamination have existed for decades, however, various barriers to market, including consumer awareness, affordability, and a lack of contamination limits, amongst other reasons, have prevented widespread adoption of these technologies.
The Nigeria Aflasafe™ Pilot is a five-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™ treated maize. By motivating smallholders farmers to use Aflasafe™ and providing technical assistance, aggregators help smallholder farmer produce high-Aflasafe™ maize which is healthy and aflatoxin free. The Nigeria Pilot is managed by Adebole Akande.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service, led by Dr. Peter Cotty of the University of Arizona, developed Aflasafe™, a product that uses the same fungus to outcompete aflatoxin-producing fungi and prevent contamination. It is easily applied to the soil of farmers’ fields and has a highly successful impact in minimizing or preventing contamination.
Control agents are environment specific. Agents may be successful in an area, but because of specifics in soil, environment and other details, in a different area, it would have little to no effect. Therefore Dr. Cotty teamed up with Dr. Ranajit Bandyopadhyay of the Africa-based International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to adapt and develop Aflasafe™ for the Nigerian context – specifically, by using Aspergillus fungus strains native to Nigeria. The result of their collaboration is Aflasafe™ an effective biocontrol agent that reduces the negative impact of aflatoxins in the West African country.