The following is an excerpted version of a blog post originally published on the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) website.

Some of the foods that would most enhance nutrition in diets in the developing world are also the riskiest in terms of food safety. Numerous health risks exist along the value chain for livestock and fish products, from production to consumption. In this post, Sophie Theis (Research Analyst, Poverty, Health, Nutrition Division, International Food Policy Research Institute) and Delia Grace (Program Manager, International Livestock Research Institute) relate findings from a recent A4NH/International Livestock Research Institute analysis of 20 livestock and fish value chains in Africa and Asia that reveal how gender differences in value chain participation influence risk exposure.

The results from the participatory risk assessment of these value chains are published in Grace et al. (2010) and a paper analyzing the gendered dimensions of risk is underway by Delia Grace, Sophie Theis, Kristina Roesel, Erastus Kang’ethe and Bassirou Bonfoh.

Selling milk

Selling milk in Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI).

In rural Mali, a Fulani herder finishes milking a cow and hoists the calabash to his head, the milk sloshing gently in the vessel as he carefully carries the milk to Mariam, the woman he works for. By custom, Mariam has never milked a cow, but once the milk is in her domain, she is in charge of its business and use. Today she decides to keep this calabash for the family, since she has been able to sell milk at a favorable price often in the past week. She sets most aside to naturally sour, which will preserve it in the absence of refrigeration; the fermentation gives a sharp taste that consumers find thirst quenching in the hot season.

In the outskirts of Nairobi, Faith works the udders of her dairy cow. A male relative she has hired to help with the milking approaches with another pail of milk. She accepts it absentmindedly; she is already estimating the prices she will get selling the milk to neighbors and the local milk bar and considering whether she should invest the revenues in hiring another person.

In rural Mali, periurban Kenya, and many other parts of Africa, women play important and varied roles in livestock and fish value chains. The milk that Mariam and Faith helped to produce goes both to their families and to the market; it is also valued as gifts and in Mali as a sacrifice that brings blessing and protection against evil.

The decisions that Mariam and Faith make have bearings on many people’s nutrition: the quantity of milk that they keep for their household, how they apportion milk amongst household members, the use of the income from milk that they sell, and – less often acknowledged, but critical – the extent to which they effectively manage food safety risk, preventing contamination of the milk.

Many of the most nutritious foods, including animal source foods, are amongst the riskiest in terms of pathogen transmission. Meat, milk, fish and eggs provide plenty of nutrients for pathogenic organisms and can also carry infections from animals that harbor them to people. Food-borne disease persists as a major public health problem in Africa and Asia, where the majority of these foods are produced by smallholders, marketed through the informal sector, and sold in wet markets.

Food safety in these products is a major concern, as informal markets are important sources of food for the poor and tend to provide food that is more accessible, affordable, and compatible with local preferences for certain varieties of food and quantities than supermarkets.

Women like Mariam and Faith manage risk as they interact with informal markets by selling and buying food for their households. Informal value chains are complex, shaped by a number of actors. While risk management training interventions tend to focus on the owners of livestock or on actors only in one node of the value chain (e.g. butchers), risk management relies on all the actors along the value chain, from production, aggregation, processing, retail, and consumption. Many of these actors are women, and attention to local norms in the division of labor is critical for targeting food safety assessments and interventions.

Read the complete blog post on the A4NH website

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”.

ILRI scientist Silvia Alonso presents at the 6th All Africa Conference on Animal Agriculture

ILRI scientist Silvia Alonso presents at the 6th All Africa Conference on Animal Agriculture held at Nairobi, Kenya on 27-30 October 2014 (photo credit: ILRI/Tezira Lore).

Scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) yesterday (28 Oct 2014) presented some of their recent research findings from studies on animal health and food safety in East Africa at the 6th All Africa Conference on Animal Agriculture. The conference is being held from 27 to 30 October 2014 at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.

Some 300 participants from all over Africa and beyond are attending the conference whose theme is Africa’s animal agriculture: Macro-trends and future opportunities. The five conference sub-themes are:

  • Youth: The future hope?
  • Which way for smallholder production systems?
  • Pastoral systems: Options for tomorrow
  • Market access: Opportunities for enhanced access to local, regional and global markets
  • Africa’s human capacity challenge for animal agriculture: Which way now?

Silvia Alonso, a postdoctoral scientist with ILRI’s Food Safety and Zoonoses program presented the following two papers:

Results from a study on Kenyan milk consumers’ behaviour and perceptions of aflatoxin were also presented. This study was a joint output of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health and the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets.

Additionally, the following ILRI posters on smallholder dairying in Tanzania and pastoralism in Kenya and Tanzania featured in the poster session:


Posters by projects in ILRI's Food Safety and Zoonoses program featured at the 6th All Africa Conference on Animal Agriculture

Posters by projects in ILRI’s Food Safety and Zoonoses program featured at the 6th All Africa Conference on Animal Agriculture held at Nairobi, Kenya on 27-30 October 2014 (photo credit: ILRI/Tezira Lore).



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