Working in the maize field in Malawi

Working in the maize field in Malawi (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

The CGIAR Consortium, made up of 15 research centres, carries out agricultural research to contribute to the global effort to find solutions to the problems of poverty, hunger, food and nutrition insecurity, and environmental degradation.

Although there is still some disconnection between agriculture, health and nutrition, it is recognized that agriculture does indeed have important effects on human health. Aflatoxins, for example, pose significant health risks in tropical and subtropical regions.

Aflatoxins are highly toxic fungal by-products produced by certain strains of Aspergillus flavus in more than 40 susceptible crops including maize and groundnuts. Aflatoxins cause around 90,000 cases of liver cancer each year and are strongly associated with stunting and immune suppression in children. Aflatoxins in contaminated animal feed not only result in reduced animal productivity, but the toxins can end up in products like milk, meat and eggs, thus presenting a health risk to humans.

A new research paper published in the journal Food Security (20 May 2015) discusses how agricultural research by CGIAR can reduce the health risks from aflatoxin exposure for poor consumers while increasing the opportunities for poor farmers.

The paper, International agricultural research to reduce food risks: case studies on aflatoxins, begins with an overview of the evolution of CGIAR research on food safety and aflatoxins.

It then presents case studies to show how risk-based and market-based approaches as well as crop genetic improvement and biological control can help provide justification for and add value to future CGIAR research on aflatoxins.

In conclusion, the authors present five priority research activities:

  1. Generating evidence on the human and animal health impacts of aflatoxins
  2. Understanding the potential of improved technologies and good agricultural practices to reduce aflatoxin exposure in farm households and communities
  3. Assessing the costs and benefits of proposed strategies on aflatoxin reduction as well as other goals such as income and food security
  4. Assessing how costs and benefits are distributed across men and women in households and across different types of households in communities
  5. Understanding factors that facilitate and constrain adoption of aflatoxin control strategies would also be assessed, with particular emphasis on gender issues, incentives and on the role of health information and communication.

The paper was written by scientists from the following CGIAR centres: the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

Citation
Grace D, Mahuku G, Hoffmann V, Atherstone C, Upadhyaya HD and Bandyopadhyay R. 2015. International agricultural research to reduce food risks: case studies on aflatoxins. Food Security 7(3): 569-582.

On 9-11 October 2013, participants from five CGIAR centres met at Naivasha in Kenya to share about their current activities related to mycotoxin research and to plan for how these different activities might contribute to the next phase of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) mycotoxin research portfolio.

The meeting was attended by representatives from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub at ILRI.

Scientists presented their current mycotoxin research activities, the research gaps and opportunities they see, and areas for development. In addition, IITA presented on Biocontrol using atoxigenic Aspergillus flavus and ILRI presented on risk analysis as the current gold standard for assessing, managing and communicating food safety. All presentations are available at https://aghealth.wordpress.com/presentations-at-the-second-joint-cgiar-meeting-on-mycotoxins.

The group agreed that mycotoxins were a key area for food safety and trade in Africa; that it was important to co-ordinate CGIAR activities across A4NH; that moving into a second phase of A4NH emphasis was needed on developing strong impact pathways that linked research with development outcomes.

To this end, the group established three working groups to plan and coordinate mycotoxin research across CGIAR centres:

  • Evidence for risk and risk mitigation
  • Diagnostics for use
  • Population biology for control

Download the workshop report

On 3-4 September 2012 participants from five CGIAR centres met at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi to share about their activities related to mycotoxin research and to plan how these different activities might work together within the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) mycotoxin research portfolio.

Representatives attended from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA),  the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and ILRI.

The meeting report is now published, highlighting the key issues, decisions and action points.

Download the meeting report.

Aflatoxin-contaminated groundnut kernels

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

On 3-4 September 2012 participants from five CGIAR centres met at the headquarters of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi to share about their current activities related to mycotoxin research and to plan for how these different activities might work together within the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) mycotoxin research portfolio.

Representatives from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA),  the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and ILRI presented their current mycotoxin research activities, the challenges they are facing and opportunities for further work.

The group selected three major focus areas of mycotoxin research:

  • risk and impact assessment
  • values chains
  • biocontrol

These focal areas were selected based on their potential to be used as platforms for other research and for the strategic opportunity harmonizing existing efforts within the CGIAR system would bring.

During the meeting, participants started to identify opportunities and potential partners within these major areas, and the refinement of this list will continue in the weeks following the meeting.

Partners working in the East Africa region attended part of the meeting to share information about mycotoxin research, the policy environment, mitigation efforts and levels of awareness and education in the region.

They also provided helpful input on the opportunities identified by A4NH researchers during the meeting.

A follow-up meeting is tentatively planned for January 2013.


Article contributed by Amanda Wyatt of IFPRI.