IITA: EAC policymakers trained on aflatoxins and their effective antidote, aflasafe
4 October 2017 A week-long training for policymakers from the East Africa Community (EAC) partner states on aflatoxins and progress on efforts to reduce its contamination in food and feeds in the region is currently underway in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The training is part of ongoing efforts by the EAC Secretariat in partnership with the Africa Union (AU), USAID, and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), among many other partners, to prevent and control aflatoxin contamination, a major threat to food security in the region, a health hazard, and which affects trade in food and agricultural commodities. The training is being conducted at and by IITA experts from 3 to 7 October 2017.
East Africa is a hotspot for aflatoxins—highly poisonous chemicals produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus which is found in soils. They affect both humans and animals that eat contaminated food and feed, and can cause liver disease (including cancer) and lower the body’s immunity. In children, aflatoxins impair growth leading to stunting. Acute exposure can lead to instant death.
The aflatoxin-producing molds affect many crops but the key staples of maize and groundnut are the most susceptible. Aflatoxin contamination also affects trade as grains that have high levels of the toxins cannot be exported and must be destroyed—at a cost.
“The multi-sectoral impacts and effects of aflatoxin constitute a significant challenge to agriculture, health, and trade. It is one of the challenges undermining the desired levels of social and economic transformation and regional integration in the East Africa Community,” said Fahari Marwa, a Principal Agricultural Economist at the EAC Secretariat.
“The EAC has been spearheading interventions aimed at addressing the incidences and impact of aflatoxins to enhance food utilization, nutrition, and food safety. The secretariat has developed the EAC Aflatoxin Prevention and Control Strategy which was approved at the 10th Sectoral Council on Agriculture and Food Security and will be presented to the full council of Ministers in November 2017,” Marwa said while delivering opening remarks at the training.
The training also focuses on strategies for preventing and controlling aflatoxin contamination including looking at the progress in developing and rolling out aflasafe—one of the technologies that has proven effective in reducing contamination—across the five EAC countries.
Aflasafe was developed by IITA in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture–Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and other local and international partners. Aflasafe is made up of the mold of the same family as the type that produces aflatoxins but which do not produce the toxin and can displace their toxin-producing relatives from the soil. Aflasafe has been able to consistently reduce aflatoxin contamination in crops by over 80% in trials across the continent.