U.S. and Malawi team up to reduce aflatoxins in maize and groundnut

This morning, Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy in Malawi, Andrew Herrup and the Principal Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Gray Nyandule Phiri participated in the handover of the Aflatoxin Testing Laboratory to the Government of Malawi (GoM) and celebrated the development of two Malawi-specific biocontrol products that will enable Malawi’s farmers to control aflatoxins in their groundnut and maize crops.

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 groundnut 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 U.S. Government, through USAID’s Feed the Future Malawi Improved Seed Systems and Technologies (MISST) Project, invested over MK 1.5 billion to reduce aflatoxin contamination in food. MK 7,000,000 was spent to establish the Aflatoxin Testing Laboratory at the Chitedze Research Station being handed over today, 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 these results, 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.