Mitigating the consequences of aflatoxin in Africa

Promoting agribusiness

Mitigating the consequences of aflatoxin in Africa

Aflatoxins are toxic substances, produced by fungi, which colonise maize, sorghum, groundnuts, millet, cassava and chilies among other commodities in Africa. The consequences of contamination are manifold and detrimental for human health, food security and trade. CTA and the African Union Commission, Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA), are currently seeking to engage the private sector and upscale viable solutions to tackle this complex challenge in African countries. 

Aflatoxins – foodborne toxins produced by moulds (Aspergillus species) – hinder Africa's efforts towards achieving food security, improving nutrition and attaining thriving agricultural-led economic growth. Ubiquitous across African countries, a 2016 study commissioned by CTA in conjunction with PACA, and led by Professor Sheila Okoth, confirmed that these fungal metabolites pose major risks to human health and trade. Aflatoxins have been associated with liver cancer, as well as stunting and kwashiorkor in children. They also hamper domestic, intra-regional and international trade; it is estimated that the continent loses €400–600 million annually in export earnings due to aflatoxins.

Experts claim that this complex challenge can only be contained if multiple actors engage in coordinated efforts aimed at mitigating the risks along the value chains of commodities that are susceptible to aflatoxin contamination. Their concerted actions should be complemented by enabling policies and regulations, and backed up with adequate financial and human resources. A sound institutional framework (inclusive of well-equipped laboratories) is critical.

In recent years, the spotlight has turned on strengthening alliances with the private sector, particularly farmers' organisations and industry leaders. Given the high economic losses, they are seen as instrumental to providing leadership in the shared agenda for tackling aflatoxin contamination. Public-private-producer partnerships for aflatoxin control in Africa can make significant contributions to improving public health and nutrition, developing agro-industries and expanding trade opportunities.

In light of this, PACA and CTA convened a roundtable side event on the margins of the 2nd PACA Partnership Platform meeting in Entebbe, Uganda on 11 October 2016, to develop a private sector engagement strategy and evaluation criteria for effective private sector-led aflatoxin mitigation. The roundtable gathered over 35 participants, including CEOs and programme managers, producers, millers, traders and processors from the groundnut, grain, chili, and coffee value chain, as well as input and equipment suppliers, technical and financial service providers, and development partners from across Africa and beyond. Representatives from AFRI-Nut (Malawi), Cereal Millers' Association (Kenya), CTA, GrainPro (Eastern Africa), Meds For Kids (MFK, Haiti), Nestlé (West Africa), PACA, USAID, and women's organisations from Uganda and Zimbabwe, also attended.

The roundtable detailed seven successful intervention stories, which demonstrated how the private sector has been dealing with the aflatoxin challenge. One of these was MFK's model – one of CTA's Top 20 Innovations – which promotes the use of appropriate control strategies throughout the entire value chain in Haiti. MFK's model supports smallholders to control aflatoxin contamination through training, collaborative research and price incentives. As a result, farmers have been able to access credit, and increase yields by 30% and farm incomes by 100%. Since 2012, a private company, Acceso Peanut Enterprise, has expanded the model to new regions of Haiti, opening up new markets to more farmers. Nestlé also shared their experience in West Africa, where they reduced rejection rates from 50% in 2007 to 4% by 2013 and got farmers to meet the stringent acceptable limits of total aflatoxins at 4 µg/kg of maize.

Other private sector-led initiatives that have achieved a growth in market share, and met consumer demands while increasing brand and quality recognition. They include:

  1. Self-regulation and the adoption of internal standards, which are in some cases stricter than national and international norms;

  2. Provision of input credits and higher prices for quality produce to farmers;

  3. Training of farmers in good agricultural practices, and in conducting aflatoxin testing throughout the value chain;

  4. Establishing joint ventures with major research facilities;
  5. Forming alliances with other private sector actors and producer groups;

  6. Investing in capacity building of staff and infrastructural development.

The following priority actions were compiled to form a private sector engagement strategy:

  • Mobilise matching grant schemes for increasing access to technologies and services to support innovation;

  • Build alliances with consumer groups to create awareness and demand for safe quality foods without creating panic;

  • Build alliances with farmer groups/associations/cooperatives for scaling-up the adoption of good agricultural practices and collective sourcing;
  • Lobby government for incentives to support innovation in the food and feed value chains, and updating and improving implementation of aflatoxin regulation governing the informal and commercial sectors.

CTA will continue to partner with PACA and other key African and international partners in the continued effort to control aflatoxin contamination in Africa, particularly to accelerate concrete collaboration with the private sector for improved agricultural production, agri-business and trade, and health and nutrition.