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Innovative Technology Makes Food Safer for Families

In developing countries, one of the fastest growing and most dangerous food safety risks is aflatoxin contamination. Aflatoxins are naturally occurring fungal poisons found in crops and livestock products. Not only can they cause serious illness and even death in humans, but contaminated crops harm trade, animal health and human nutrition, including by stunting growth and development in children. The CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), which is supported by Feed the Future to maximize the health and nutritional benefits of agricultural development, is tackling this complex problem as part of a broader effort to address agriculture-related diseases and examine food safety, human nutrition and health risks along agricultural value chains.

One way that A4NH supports food safety is by developing and promoting solutions to pests and diseases that can work in rural areas where smallholder farmers may not have reliable access to goods and services in the formal market. An example of such a solution is Aflasafe™, a safe and affordable bio-control technology that prevents aflatoxin contamination. Aflasafe contains harmless, non-toxic strains of Aspergillus flavus, the naturally occurring fungus that causes aflatoxin contamination. Using sorghum as a carrier and food source for these “good fungus” strains, Aflasafe can be distributed on crops, where the good fungus colonizes organic matter in the soil and displaces the dangerous A. flavus strains that produce toxins and lead to contamination. Aflasafe is highly effective, reducing aflatoxin concentration by up to 96 percent in maize at harvest and in storage.

Aflasafe was developed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and university partners. Today, it is being tested and applied in multiple sites across Africa, where exposure to aflatoxins is the highest. A4NH researchers work with the IITA team to introduce the technology along with a package of farm management, diagnostic, policy and institutional tools to ensure Aflasafe is used safely by farmers to grow aflatoxin-free crops.

At a pilot site in Nigeria, demand for Aflasafe is booming as farmers see a clear return on investment. In 2013, IITA found that farmers who used Aflasafe and a package of other agricultural best practices (such as hybrid seeds and fertilizers) sold approximately 550 tons of treated maize grain at an average premium of 10-37 percent over the market price. In combination with the improved crop quality achieved by using Aflasafe, farmers were also able to improve yields through training and agricultural inputs provided under apartnership with AgResults, a multilateral initiative with private and public sector support (including from the United States), which rewards high-impact agricultural innovations.

Bio-control technologies like Aflasafe are only one piece of a larger solution to managing aflatoxins. It will take time, as well as institutional and regulatory cooperation, to increase farmers’ willingness to pay for additional inputs, and for markets to value crops with less aflatoxin. But for now, this innovative technology is helping to disrupt the spread of a deadly disease and building vulnerable families’ resilience to the threat of crop loss and illness. 

Learn more about how Aflasafe works to prevent aflatoxin contamination.

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