IITA, Eastern Africa Grain Council Move to Halt Africa’s $670 Million Annual Export Trade Loss

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IITA’s Aflasafe™ factory

International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Eastern Africa Grain Council (EAGC) have sealed a deal to tackle aflatoxin contamination of grain in the region.

Achieving this will ensure that grains are safe for human and livestock consumption and meet export standards.

To this end, they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to work together.

Aflatoxin is, however, a highly poisonous chemical produced by a naturally occurring fungus known as Aspergillus flavus, poses a severe health threat to both humans and animals.

Acute poisoning from consuming foods with too high levels of aflatoxin can lead to instant death. Chronic long-term exposure from consuming foods with above–the–allowable safe levels can result in lowered immunity, low birth weight, and irreversible stunting in children.

People exposed to aflatoxin can also develop liver cancer.

Because of the health risks, aflatoxin also causes a loss in trade revenues when products fail to meet the required standards. According to the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA), Africa loses an estimated $670 million in rejected export trade annually due to contamination by aflatoxin.

PACA is concerned with providing leadership and coordination for Africa’s aflatoxin control efforts, acting primarily as a catalyst, facilitator, partnership and knowledge broker, project developer and information clearinghouse.

PACA will also advocate for the establishment of enabling policies and institutions, increased investment and the mobilisation of resources, and should ultimately act as a grantmaker to support priority aflatoxin control activities.

Its mission is to support agricultural development, safeguard consumer health and facilitate trade by catalyzing, coordinating and increasing effective aflatoxin control along agricultural value chains in Africa.

In the MoU, IITA and EAGC, a membership organisation that brings together key players across the grain value chain in Eastern and Southern Africa, will promote best practices and proven technologies to manage aflatoxin.

This integrated aflatoxin management strategy includes promoting the use of Aflasafe™, an innovative, safe, and natural product that substantially reduces aflatoxin contamination in maize and groundnut.

Aflasafe is a safe natural solution to the problem of aflatoxin, homegrown in Africa with help from partners in the USA and Europe. It works from the plot to your plate to stop contamination from reaching dangerous levels and keep foods like maize and groundnutssafe to eat.

Aflasafe tackles toxic tragedy using harmless types of Aspergillus flavus. Surprisingly, this is the same kind of fungus that produces aflatoxin, but in this case, they are kindlier cousins that do not and cannot ever produce the toxin.

Each country has its own version of Aflasafe using a mixture of four fungal strains, all found growing naturally in local soils. The friendly fungi are coated onto ordinary sorghum grain, which acts as a vehicle to help them get established and can easily be broadcast onto fields.

It seems strange for the same fungus to be both poison and cure, but it is a bit like sending a thief to catch a thief: only Aspergillus can stop Aspergillus.

Farmers apply Aflasafe to their plants early on, and the friendly fungi occupy the growing food before the dangerous ones can get a toehold. Aflasafe might look like a poacher but it is really a gamekeeper, staking out its territory and making life difficult for the bad guys.

The technology, initially developed by the US Department of Agriculture- Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), is used widely in the US. IITA, in partnership with the USDA, has successfully adapted this technology for use in many countries in Africa.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the US Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency. Its job is finding solutions to agricultural problems that affect Americans every day from field to table. Here are a few numbers to illustrate the scope of the organisation: 660 research projects within 15 National Programmes, 2,000 scientists and postdocs, 6,000 other employees, 90+ research locations, including overseas laboratories, and $1.4 billion fiscal year budget.

While ARS delivers scientific solutions to national and global agricultural challenges, its vision is global leadership in agricultural discoveries through scientific excellence.

Its core value is scientific excellence, creativity, innovation, integrity, leadership, collaboration, accountability, transparency, diversity, respect, inclusiveness, and public service.

These values underpin ARS’ commitment to delivering cutting-edge, scientific tools and innovative solutions for American farmers, producers, industry, and communities to support the nourishment and well-being of all people; sustain our nation’s agroecosystems and natural resources; and ensure the economic competitiveness and excellence of our agriculture.

“Aflatoxin contamination is a serious food safety issue in sub-Saharan Africa and also a major impediment to trade. We are therefore excited about this partnership with EACG that will, among others, support efforts to create awareness on aflatoxin and mitigation strategies”, says Kenton Dashiell, IITA Deputy Director General for Partnerships for Delivery at the virtual signing of the MoU.

Dashiell stated that the collaboration would help towards the realization of our vision for an aflatoxin-free, food-secure Africa.

EAGC is identifying best practices in food safety and quality control among grain value chain actors to increase their potential grain trade within and between African countries.

EAGC Executive Director, Gerald Masila, remarked: “By reducing aflatoxin contamination in grains to safe levels, Africa could meet international food safety standards, thereby creating a huge opportunity for an increase in grain export potential.”

The MoU will leverage each organization’s strengths to promote cooperation in the areas of advocacy, research, capacity development, and awareness creation.

This collaboration would also promote the implementation of EAC staple food standards and mobilise resources to attain and manage aflatoxin standards. Signing the MoU intends to increase knowledge and experience sharing to maximize the desired outcomes.

IITA has registered 14 Aflasafe™ products for commercial use in 10 countries (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, The Gambia, and Zambia).

The Institute has transferred these products to private sector partners for scale-up and is continuing to develop products in 12 other countries.

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