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Curbing aflatoxins in Nigeria’s agric value chains

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Curbing aflatoxins in Nigeria’s agric value chains

Agricultural experts have raised the alarm over the outbreak of aflatoxins in agricultural produce in Nigeria, saying that if the disease is not tamed, it could fuel food crisis and security in Nigeria. Taiwo Hassan reports

 

Indeed, agricultural experts have reiterated that the issue of aflatoxins is important consideration in the country’s agricultural value chains, as it contributes to enormous economic losses through its adverse effects on food security, human health and trade in agricultural products.
They outlined the strategies for local awareness creation on the aflatoxin problem and aflatoxin mitigation approaches with potential for immediate adoption by farmers and other value chains actors, institutional arrangements and partnerships for aflatoxin management in Nigeria, as well as modalities for funding local activities on aflatoxin management.
The experts observed that technologies to mitigate pre and post-harvest produce contamination are available while some are still being developed by researchers around the world.
They added that these technologies need to urgently reach farmers, processors and traders. One way of doing this they said, is through innovation platforms.

Implications
Aflatoxins are a group of mycotoxins produced by Aspergillus species, including A. flavus, A. parasiticus, and A. nomius. A quarter of the world’s food crops are estimated to be affected by mycotoxins; creating a large economical loss in the developed and developing countries. Other reports indicate even higher contamination rate of aflatoxin. However, exposure to higher levels of aflatoxin contamination increases cancer incidence, including risk of hepato-cellular carcinoma especially in 6- to 9-year-old girls and neural tube defects.
One of the reasons, which make aflatoxins one of the most challenging mycotoxin is the fact that it could be produced by the responsible fungi not only at pre-harvest time but also at post-harvest stages including storage. However, lack of regulations or poor enforcement, which makes the use of such contaminated commodities inevitable, could lead to severe human and animal diseases too. Aflatoxin B1, B2, G1 and G2 are the most important members of the aflatoxin group, which chemically are coumarin derivatives with a fused dihydrofurofuran moiety. Presence of aflatoxin B1, B2, G1 and G2 may naturally occur in different ratios depending on different matrices. However, it was concluded that when aflatoxins are limited only to AFB1 and AFB2, such ratio is 1.0 to 0.1, while when all four aflatoxins occur (AFB1, AFB2, AFG1 and AFG2), they may be found in a ratio of 1.0:0.1:0.3:0.03. Cereals notably corn, nuts such as peanuts, pistachio and Brazil nuts, oil seeds such as cottonseed, as well as copra, the dried meat of coconut, are some of the commodities with greater risk of aflatoxin contamination. Because peanuts, cottonseed and copra constitute the most important source of edible oils, they are of particular interest.

Commodities resistance
Commodities, which are resistant or only moderately susceptible to aflatoxin contamination in the field include wheat, oats, millet, barley, rice, cassava, soybeans, beans, pulses and sorghum. However, when any of these commodities are stored under high moisture and temperature conditions, aflatoxin contamination may occur.
Other commodities such as cocoa beans, linseeds, melon seeds and sunflower seeds have been infrequently contaminated with mycotoxins with lower importance rate compared to other commodities.
Aflatoxin is the single most important contaminant on The Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) of the European Union in a way that in 2008, aflatoxins alone were responsible for almost 30 per cent of all the notifications to the RASFF system (902 notifications).
With increasing knowledge and awareness of aflatoxins as a potent source of health hazard to both human and animals, a great deal of effort has been made to completely eliminate the toxin or reduce its content in foods and feedstuffs to significantly lower levels.
Although prevention is the most effective intervention, chemical, biological and physical methods have been investigated to inactivate aflatoxins or reduce their content in foodstuffs.

Outbreak
However, an agricultural expert, Ismail Olawale, has raised the alarm over the outbreak of aflatoxins in local agricultural produce in Nigeria.
Olawale, a researcher at the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), spoke in Lagos at a forum.
He disclosed that numerous agricultural produce were contaminated by the fungi, which he said, should be monitored and diminished.
“There are numerous ways aflatoxins contaminate agriculture produce,” he said.
“These crops can be contaminated from the soil, during harvest or even via storage.
“Aflatoxins can also infect the crops through animal manure such as cow dung, donkey dung etc, if not properly administered.
“We usually advice local farmers to be cautious during the harvest of their crops, they should ensure minimal contact of the crops with the ground.
“We also counsel local farmers that harvested crop produce should be stored one meter or two above ground level to avoid aflatoxin contamination.”
He, however, called on the National Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), and other regulatory bodies for proper inspection of agricultural produce.

Aflatoxin innovations
Aflatoxins exemplify the level of threat that food contamination poses to development – both economic and in public health – and as such, have been the focus of some innovative research. A partnership between Microsoft and the industrial technology giant Bühler, for example, led to the recent announcement of a new type of sorting technology – LumoVision – which identifies any kernels that fluoresce as green (an indication of contamination) as they pass under UV lighting. Nozzles then blow the contaminated kernels out of the stream.
One promising solution to aflatoxin contamination already on the market is the biological control Aflasafe, which introduces a related, but harmless strain of the fungus in a process of ‘competitive exclusion’. It launched in 2017 and is now available in Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal. It reduces contamination by more than 70 per cent and has enabled farmers to earn a 13-17 per cent premium for treated crops. Distribution is now being scaled up under the Aflasafe Technology Transfer and Commercialization Project (ATTC), funded by a $20 million 17 million) grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID, with a focus on developing local private sector-led dissemination.
Matieyedou Konlambigue, ATTC managing director, said partnership with the private sector is essential to making Aflasafe a sustainable solution. “The private sector has the expertise and capacity to create local production and spur distribution,” he said.

IITA’s role
The AgResult Aflasafe Pilot Project of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, had commenced the training of maize farmers on the use of aflasafe control and strategies to promote stability in the production of the crop.
The Project Director, Dr Debo Akande, stated at the opening of the three-day programme, in Ibadan, Oyo state that the training was centred on pre-harvest management of aflatoxin and aflasafe , a bio-control herbicide application.
Akade noted that the training will focus on maize agronomy, in boosting productivity and post-harvest safety measures to sustain maize grain quality.
According to him, the project would also address measures to reduce aflatoxin, a virus that attacks maize and groundnuts.

Last line
With the outbreak of the disease ravaging many farmlands, it is estimated that many basic foods could be contaminated with mycotoxin producing fungi, contributing to huge losses of foodstuffs in Nigeria, if not checked urgently.

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