Reducing aflatoxins in Kenya’s food chains: Filmed highlights from an ILRI media briefing

Last month (14 Nov 2013), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) held a roundtable briefing/discussion for science journalists in Nairobi to highlight on-going multi-institutional efforts to combat aflatoxins in the food chains of Kenya.

Aflatoxins are a naturally occurring carcinogenic by-product of common fungi that grow on grains and other food crops, particularly maize and groundnuts. Researchers from across East Africa are joining up efforts to address the significant human and animal health challenges posed by these food toxins in the region.

Watch this 6-minute film, which highlights some of the interventions being used to tackle aflatoxins in Kenya. The film features interviews with the five panelists at the media briefing, who came from the University of Nairobi, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Kenya, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA)-ILRI Hub, and ILRI.

‘Even though the presence of aflatoxins in Kenya dates back to the 1960s, the first recorded outbreak of aflatoxins that affected humans was recorded in the early 1980s,’ says Erastus Kang’ethe, a professor in the Department of Public Health at the University of Nairobi.

‘The biggest risk of aflatoxins comes from long-term exposure to these toxins, which leads to chronic aflatoxicosis,’ says Abigael Obura, of CDC. ‘The CDC in Kenya is working closely with the Ministry of Health to improve aflatoxin surveillance measures in Kenya’s districts through better sample collection and analysis.’

At the same time, Johanna Lindahl and other scientists at ILRI are assessing the risks posed by aflatoxins in Kenya’s dairy value chain; cows that consume aflatoxin-contaminated feeds produce milk that is also contaminated with the toxins.

According to Charity Mutegi, from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, one of the key strategies in managing aflatoxins in Kenya is by using a ‘biological control technology that targets the fungus that produces the aflatoxins while the crop is still in the field.’ Known more popularly as ‘aflasafe,’ this technology, which is expected to be available in the country soon, is in use in other parts of Africa where ‘farm trials have yielded aflatoxin reduction of over 70 percent,’ says Mutegi.

Jagger Harvey, a scientist with the BecA-ILRI Hub, says the hub has established a capacity building platform for aflatoxin research that is being used by maize breeders from Kenya and Tanzania to, among other control efforts, come up with maize varieties that are more resistance to the aflatoxin-causing fungus.

Read a related ILRI news article about a filmed interview of two scientists leading work of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, Delia Grace, of ILRI, and John McDermott, of the International Food Policy Research Institute, who describe some of the risks aflatoxins pose, new options for their better control and why research to combat these toxins matters so much.

View an ILRI infographic of the impact of aflatoxins in the food chain.

Read more on biological control to reduce aflatoxins.

Read more on strengthening regional research capacity to deal with aflatoxins.

Fighting aflatoxins: CGIAR scientists Delia Grace and John McDermott describe the disease threats and options for better control

In this 6-minute film, two leading scientists combatting aflatoxins in the food chains of developing countries describe some of the risks these toxins pose and new options for their better control. Aflatoxins are a naturally occurring carcinogenic byproduct of common fungi that grow on grains and other food crops, particularly maize and groundnuts, as well as in the milk and meat of livestock that have consumed feeds contaminated with aflatoxins. These toxins threaten public health in many poor countries.

In this short film, Delia Grace and John McDermott discuss on-going research to control aflatoxins in developing countries and why this research matters so much.

Delia Grace is a veterinary epidemiologist who leads research on both ‘food safety and zoonoses’ at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and ‘agriculture-associated diseases’, a flagship project of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH). John McDermott, another veterinary epidemiologist by training, who formerly served as ILRI’s deputy director general for research and now works for the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), is director of A4NH (Agriculture for Nutrition and Health), a multi-centre program led by IFPRI.

Earlier this week (4 Nov 2013), IFPRI and its 2020 Vision initiative jointly with the CGIAR Research Program on A4NH released a series of 19 briefs on the state of efforts to combat aflatoxins. ILRI’s Grace co-edited the series with IFPRI’s Laurian Unnevehr: ‘Aflatoxins: Finding solutions for improved food safety’. Grace and Unnevehr themselves developed 2 of the 19 briefs: ‘Tackling aflatoxins: An overview of challenges and solutions’  and The role of risk assessment in guiding aflatoxin policy’. In another of the briefs, Grace zeroes in on the dangers of aflatoxins in animal-source foods: ‘Animals and aflatoxins’. Jagger Harvey and Benoit Gnonlonfin, two scientists with ILRI’s Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, along with colleagues in Australia and Cornell University, wrote the last brief in the series: ‘Improving diagnostics for aflatoxin detection‘.

Aflatoxins grow naturally on many farms, infesting grains and groundnuts, particularly after drought or insect damage and are a particularly common problem in developing countries, where aflatoxins not only pose a significant public health risk but also create a barrier to trade in agricultural commodities.

‘These toxins have a range of effects on human and animal health,’ says Grace. ‘High doses are lethal to both humans and animals and chronic consumption of lower levels of aflatoxins is associated with liver cancer and immunosuppression in children.’

Researchers have known about the problem of aflatoxins in developing countries for several decades but because these countries have largely informal markets and minimal trade, people have tended to minimize or ignore the problem.

‘But this is changing’, says McDermott. ‘Recent cases of aflatoxin-related deaths in Africa widened appreciation that this problem is important; there’s been a recent increase in investment in different control methods’, he says.

The series of briefs released this week brings together the experiences of researchers both within and outside CGIAR and contributes to efforts to help smallholder farmers better manage aflatoxins on their farms.

The briefs describe health risks from aflatoxins and the state of research on aflatoxins, including new methods of detection, crop breeding and food storage and handling, as well as ways to overcome the market constraints imposed by aflatoxins.

‘We’ve assembled for policy- and other decision-makers the current state of knowledge on what we need to do about aflatoxins in tropical countries,’ says McDermott.

Read more about the briefs released this week:

http://www.ifpri.org/publication/aflatoxins-finding-solutions-improved-food-safety

Read the whole publication: Aflatoxins: Finding solutions for improved food safety, edited by Laurian Unnevehr and Delia Grace

Download

Table of Contents and Introduction

1. Tackling Aflatoxins: An Overview of Challenges and Solutions
by Laurian Unnevehr and Delia Grace

2. Aflatoxicosis: Evidence from Kenya
by Abigael Obura

3. Aflatoxin Exposure and Chronic Human Diseases: Estimates of Burden of Disease
by Felicia Wu

4. Child Stunting and Aflatoxins
by Jef L Leroy

5. Animals and Aflatoxins
by Delia Grace

6. Managing Mycotoxin Risks in the Food Industry: The Global Food Security Link
by David Crean

7. Farmer Perceptions of Aflatoxins: Implications for Intervention in Kenya
by Sophie Walker and Bryn Davies

8. Market-led Aflatoxin Interventions: Smallholder Groundnut Value Chains in Malawi
by Andrew Emmott

9. Aflatoxin Management in the World Food Programme through P4P Local Procurement
by Stéphane Méaux, Eleni Pantiora and Sheryl Schneider

10. Reducing Aflatoxins in Africa’s Crops: Experiences from the Aflacontrol Project
by Clare Narrod

11. Cost-Effectiveness of Interventions to Reduce Aflatoxin Risk
by Felicia Wu

12. Trade Impacts of Aflatoxin Standards
by Devesh Roy

13. Codex Standards: A Global Tool for Aflatoxin Management
by Renata Clarke and Vittorio Fattori

14. The Role of Risk Assessment in Guiding Aflatoxin Policy
by Delia Grace and Laurian Unnevehr

15. Mobilizing Political Support: Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa
by Amare Ayalew, Wezi Chunga and Winta Sintayehu

16. Biological Controls for Aflatoxin Reduction
by Ranajit Bandyopadhyay and Peter J Cotty

17. Managing Aflatoxin Contamination of Maize: Developing Host Resistance
by George Mahuku, Marilyn L Warburton, Dan Makumbi and Felix San Vicente

18. Reducing Aflatoxins in Groundnuts through Integrated Management and Biocontrol
by Farid Waliyar, Moses Osiru, Hari Kishan Sudini and Samuel Njoroge

19. Improving Diagnostics for Aflatoxin Detection
by Jagger Harvey, Benoit Gnonlonfin, Mary Fletcher, Glen Fox, Stephen Trowell, Amalia Berna, Rebecca Nelson and Ross Darnell

References

 

Agricultural interventions for food safety and nutrition: Livestock reports at this week’s CGIAR Science Forum

Tea Room in Chinseu

The interior of a tea room in Chinseu Trading Centre, in Zomba West, Malawi (photo on Flickr by John Appiah-Duffell); the menu on the wall, written in Chichewa, lists the following: PRICES FOR TEA: Tea without milk, Tea with milk; EXTRAS: Buns, Nsima with chicken, Nsima with meat, Nsima with beans, Rice.

The following is a report on livestock-related presentations at the on-going three-day CGIAR Science Forum, 23–25 Sep 2013, in Bonn, Germany.

From yesterday’s session on food safety is this brief from veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert Delia Grace, of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), on the case for agricultural interventions for food safety.

Agriculture has allowed massive expansion of people and their animals.

Yet in a world of more than 7 billion people, more than one billion are hungry and more than 2 billion are sickened each year from the food they ate.

Agriculture is exacting a heavy biological cost, but health policy and programs often stop at the clinic door.

A consensus is growing that the disconnect between agriculture, health and nutrition is at least partly responsible for the disease burden associated with food and farming.

‘The new CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Enhanced Nutrition and Health is attempting to bridge this disconnect and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) leads the component focusing on diseases related to agriculture. This session uses the case of fungal toxins to explore how research can contribute to game-changing innovations, powerful incentives and enabling institutions that improve at the same time food safety, food accessibility for poor consumers and access to markets for smallholder farmers.

Towards new ways of managing food safety in developing countries
* Incentives for risk management: In poor countries, where public and private standards are weak and where consumers’ choices are limited by income and information, incentives to safe production are lacking. Novel incentives need to be found to encourage farmers and other value chain actors in poor settings to produce quality and safe products.
* Innovations for risk management: Informal markets and food produced and consumed by smallholders typically have high levels of hazards. Innovations, whether technology, social or market-based, can change the game.
* Institutions for risk assessment: Food safety regulations in developing countries are characterized by complexity, inappropriateness for informal and smallholder production, lack of translation of policy into practice, and frequent negative impacts of policy. Both evidence and effective influence are needed to improve food safety institutions.

Mandela Corks 3

If not stored and dried properly groundnut can get mouldy (photo credit: ICRISAT/Swathi Sridharan).

Controlling aflatoxins as an example of agriculture based interventions for human health
‘Among staple crops (maize, groundnuts, sorghum), the most serious food safety problem is toxins produced by fungi. These cause around 90,000 cases of liver cancer each year and there are strong associations between aflatoxin exposure and stunting and immune suppression in children. There have also major impacts on trade and the livestock sector.

‘Using the example of fungal toxins, especially aflatoxins, we make the case for research investors to support research into agricultural approaches for enhancing food safety in value chains.’

From today’s session on economic implications
‘The objective of the session is to understand better the economic impacts of shifting investments towards more nutrition dense foods for healthier diets. Agricultural interventions in low income countries have often either focused on raising incomes for the poor assuming that nutrition and health benefits follow automatically or focused on improving diets through promotion of specific highly nutritious foods but do not often consider the economic sustainability of the programmes once intervention monies are removed. Furthermore, they may overlook other complex cultural and environmental issues which may be key to their success. For investment to effectively increase nutritional levels and incomes, a multi-dimensional approach including nutrition education, technical assistance, environmental awareness and community organization support may be needed to address the complex economic and social linkages between nutrition and agriculture

‘The session will present results from field research projects aimed at improving nutritional and income outcomes. Among the research questions to be addressed are:

  • How do initiatives to improve dietary and income outcomes need to be structured to reap benefits of both at present and over time?
  • How can the multi-dimensional nature of the nutrition-income linkage be integrated into investment projects in this area?
  • What are the knowledge gaps in developing and implementing these strategies?
  • Are new research approaches needed in developing interventions aimed at double objective outcomes?’

Faith Kivuti and Mom Milking a Cow

An East African smallholder dairy farmer and her cow and child (photo credit: Jeff Haskins).

Tom Randolph, ILRI agricultural economist and director of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, will make a presentation on Supporting the pro-poor transformation of smallholder-based animal-source food systems.

‘The presentation focuses on how food systems could be designed to contribute more directly to the nutritional security of poor rural and urban communities. In particular, how might investments to professionalize smallholder livestock and aquaculture production and informal market systems improve incomes and nutritional food security? The presentation explores the implications of such an objective, and provides an example from a dairy development project.’

Find the program and abstracts of presentations for the CGIAR Science Forum 2013, ‘Nutrition and health outcomes: targets for agricultural research’, 23‒25 Sep 2013, Bonn, Germany. Follow the ongoing discussions on Twitter by searching for the hashtag ‘ScienceForum2013’