US aids Malawi in reducing aflatoxins in maize, nuts

freshly shelled groundnuts

The American government, through its embassy in Malawi, has given the government of Malawi an Aflatoxin Testing Laboratory to enable farmers to control aflatoxins in the groundnuts and maize crop.

Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Malawi Andrew Herrup and the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Gray Nyandule Phiri celebrated the development of two Malawi-specific biocontrol products.

Aflatoxins are a poisonous substance produced by a naturally-occurring soil-borne fungus.

When consumed in large quantities, aflatoxins can have a spectrum of negative health effects such as immune system suppression, liver damage and even liver cancer.

In children, aflatoxins can also stunt growth and delay development.

Maize and groundnuts are particularly susceptible to aflatoxin accumulation, which means that many Malawians are routinely exposed to the health risks associated with aflatoxins.

Their presence in locally produced maize and groundnuts also means that Malawi is shut out of potentially lucrative international markets that do not accept crops infected with aflatoxins.

To combat the negative health and economic impacts of aflatoxins, the US Government, through USAID’s Feed the Future Malawi Improved Seed Systems and Technologies (MISST) Project, invested over K1.5 billion to reduce aflatoxin contamination in food.

K7 million was spent to establish the Aflatoxin Testing Laboratory at the Chitedze Research Station and the remainder funded research by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Malawi’s Department of Agriculture Research Services (DARS) to develop Malawi-specific and biologically safe aflatoxin control products.

Based on these investments and efforts, two Malawi-specific versions of a highly effective biocontrol product – Aflasafe – have been successfully developed and tested with Malawian farmers. Field trials over the past three years have demonstrated that the Malawi-specific versions of Aflasafe have successfully and safely reduced aflatoxin levels in maize and groundnuts by more than 90 percent.

Based on results which came out in December of 2018, the Malawi Agricultural Technical Clearing Committee (ATCC) cleared the product for release and use by farmers.

The next steps are to develop a commercialization strategy and involve the private sector in the production and distribution of the products.

After a competitive selection process, IITA will license the products to a private sector manufacturer and distributor to make the products available for farmers’ use.

IITA will also provide technical assistance to aid in the start-up manufacturing process for the Aflasafe products.

The Aflatoxin Lab at the Chitedze Research Station will continue testing future groundnut and maize crops to assist the key players bringing Aflasafe to market in Malawi.

With all of this in place, Malawi will be ready to begin producing maize and groundnut crops that will both keep its people healthy and open up new and lucrative markets for Malawi’s producers.