Aflatoxin-contaminated groundnut kernels

Aflatoxin-contaminated groundnut kernels from Mozambique (photo credit: IITA).

Among the many research projects carried out by the Food Safety and Zoonoses program of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is one that aims to reduce the risk of mycotoxins in the feed-dairy value chain in Kenya so as to improve food safety and safeguard the health of consumers of maize and dairy products.

The project is developing cost-effective and incentive-based mycotoxin control strategies and solutions for use by poor farmers and other actors within the feed-dairy chain.

Mycotoxins are poisonous metabolites produced by various species of moulds. Aflatoxins are cancer-causing mycotoxins produced by the mould Aspergillus flavus.

Aspergillus can grow in a wide range of foods and feed and thrives under favourable growth conditions of high temperature and moisture content.

The main activities of the project are:

  • risk assessment of the Kenyan feed-dairy chain to identify the best control options and provide risk managers with information for decision-making
  • assessment of the economic costs of aflatoxins in Kenya’s dairy value chain and examination of the cost effectiveness of mitigation strategies
  • investigation of technologies and strategies to reduce mycotoxins risk in the feed-dairy chain
  • impact assessment of a package of post-harvest strategies for reducing aflatoxins in maize
  • dissemination of evidence and building capacity of local researchers and postgraduate students through participation in designing surveys, fieldwork and data analysis

The project also applies participatory methods to develop and test strategies to mitigate the risk of mycotoxins in the feed-dairy chain.

These participatory methods engage farmers in action research on their fields so they can learn and adopt new technologies and disseminate the knowledge to other farmers.

The project is hosted in the aflatoxin research platform of the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub at ILRI’s headquarters in Nairobi. The platform was set up to provide African scientists and their research partners access to state-of-the-art facilities for nutritional and aflatoxin analysis.

The February 2015 issue of the Aflatoxin Partnership Newsletter, published by the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa, highlights the aflatoxin platform in an article by Jagger Harvey, a senior scientist at the BecA-ILRI Hub.

Since its establishment in 2011, the platform has hosted work of more than 60 researchers from seven African countries, Australia, Europe and North America,” writes Harvey.

“Collectively, the community around the laboratory has made initial assessments of aflatoxin contamination in a number of countries, conducted the first inoculated field trials in the region to identify maize varieties less susceptible to aflatoxin accumulation, developed models estimating aflatoxin risk at harvest and produced a range of other important findings and tools which are beginning to reach end users to help ensure safer food and feed for Africa”.