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Making Kenyan maize safe from aflatoxins

Scientists offer a natural, safe, and cost-effective solution to prevent future contamination of maize by the killer aflatoxin to secure the food and income of millions of small-scale farmers in Kenya and the rest of Africa.

Kenya is again grappling with high levels of aflatoxin contamination that has rendered at least 2.3 million bags of maize unfit for human and livestock consumption and trade, to the dismay of the millions of small-scale farmers that depend on the crop for food and income.

The contamination of the country’s main staple with aflatoxin, a highly poisonous cancer-causing chemical produced by a fungus scientifically known as Aspergillus flavus, was a result of poor drying and storage of the grain following heavy rainfall near harvest time.
Although the situation is grim, it is not hopeless. Scientists have developed a cost-effective, safe, and natural method to prevent aflatoxin formation in maize while in the field. The bio-control technology works by introducing strains of the A.flavus fungus that do not produce the aflatoxin or ‘the good guys,’ in the affected fields, which, outcompete and drastically reduce the population of the poison-producing strains or ‘the bad guys’.

Dr. Peter Cotty of the Agriculture Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-ARS) and Dr. Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, a plant pathologist with the Africa-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), have identified bio-competitive strains of the good fungus native to Kenya that can now be used to control aflatoxin contamination in the country.

According to Dr. Bandyopadhyay, a single application of this bio-pesticide two – three weeks before maize flowering is sufficient to prevent aflatoxin contamination throughout and beyond a cropping season and even when the grains are in storage.
“A. flavus strains are either toxigenic (produce aflatoxin) or atoxigenic (do not produce aflatoxin). Our bio-control technology makes use of carefully selected atoxigenic strains that can safely outcompete and virtually eliminate their toxic relative, effectively reducing contamination of the maize grains in fields,” said Dr. Bandyopadhyay.
He says that the technology’s ability to continue working even when the grain is in storage ensures the safety of maize from aflatoxin contamination.


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