Aflatoxin contamination – caused by Aspergillus, a type of fungus – is a big issue in Africa, which mainly affects grain crops during storage.
The United States Agency for International Development Mission in Mozambique (USAID-Moz) and the United States Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA-ARS) has provided funding for Mozambique’s Ministry of Agriculture, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (ITTA), the University of Eduardo Mondlane, and the University of Lurio to launch a multi-year aflatoxin control project in Mozambique.
The project has developed a biological control product, Aflasafe-Mz, which uses inherent beneficial strains of Aspergillus to competitively exclude the harmful aflatoxin fungus. Aflatoxins can cause immune-system suppression, growth retardation, liver disease and death in humans.
According to USAID-Moz, the bigger picture is to reduce aflatoxin levels in the country’s national diet as well as provide additional ways for farmers, regulators, input suppliers as well as exporters to produce, trade and export groundnuts and maize. “Our products need to be in compliance with aflatoxin standards set by Codex Alimentarius. The biggest challenge right now is finding and then mapping out incidents of aflatoxin presence in both crops and then developing and registering the Aflasafe-Mz programme in those areas,” said Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, pathologist at ITTA, speaking at the inception workshop held in mid-April.
The bio-competitive Aflasafe product, which has already been launched in Nigeria, mainly contains a combination of four atoxigenic strains of A. flavus. These atoxigenic strains are allowed to internally colonise sorghum grains for a brief period before being dried. The Aflasafe “grain” is then tossed into field soil by hand two to three weeks prior to the flowering of crops at 10-20kg per hectare.
Two to three days after application of Aflasafe, the atoxigenic strains sporulate on the sorghum grains, which act as their food source. The atoxigenic strains continue to produce spores for up to three weeks on the sorghum grain carrier after field application. These atoxigenic strains then colonise the organic matter and other plant residues in the soil in place of the toxin-producing strains. Spores of the atoxigenic strains are then naturally blown by air and moved by insects from soil surface to maize cobs, helping to displace the toxin-producing strains.
The training on how to effectively use Aflasafe-Mz will be available to both private and public agricultural workers as well as smallholder farmers.
According to Peter J Cotty, a research plant pathologist at USDA-ARS, there is now a greater awareness of the effects of aflatoxin contamination on humans as well as products like Aflasafe, which aid in the prevention and limitation of aflatoxin contamination. “Thus far, we have seen successful launches in Nigeria and Kenya. We are now busy with Mozambique and we will then continue on to strain identification in Burkina Faso and Senegal. Aflasafe is a very real alternative to eliminating contamination, so we need to make it accessible and cost-effective to create continuous and routine usage.”