Both facilities are to help research, monitor and control aflatoxin contamination in East Africa, according to experts who attended an event at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) centre to highlight the two projects last month (11 November).
“The devastating effects of maize grain contaminated with aflatoxins on many households cannot be understated. Several lives have been lost, tons of staple food destroyed…”
Charity Kawira Mutegi, IITA Kenya
According to a statement from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), a partner of the new laboratory, the World Bank helped rehabilitate an existing building at KARLO whilst the United States Agency for International Development provided equipment. The new facility resulted from a total investment of US$170,000.
The other project — a small-scale, regional manufacturing plant to produce a biopesticide, Aflasafe KE01, that controls aflatoxins — is expected to be completed in 12 months, the statement added.
The new plant, involving partners such as KALRO, IITA, the United States Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Services (USDA-ARS) and African Agricultural Technology Foundation, costs US$800,000.
Aflatoxin is a naturally-occurring poisonous chemical produced by a fungus called Aspergillus flavus. People get exposed to it directly by consuming contaminated crops such as maize or indirectly through milk or meat products if livestock have been fed with contaminated grain.
Felix K. Koskei, Kenya’s cabinet secretary for Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, who opened the new laboratory, said the facilities would improve food security reduce poverty, noting that Aflasafe KE01 is a sustainable technology which could reduce aflatoxin contamination by up to 98 per cent.
Victor Manyong, IITA director for Eastern Africa, said aflatoxins impede the continent’s efforts to become food secure and to reduce poverty, and commends sustainable ways to control it such as using Aflasafe KE01.
“The devastating effects of maize grain contaminated with aflatoxins on many households cannot be understated,” added Charity Kawira Mutegi, Kenya country coordinator for the IITA Aflasafe project. “Several lives have been lost, tons of staple food destroyed, millions of shillings in the livestock sector have been lost and by extension several livelihoods destroyed through death or economic disempowerment.”
Mutegi, who has conducted extensive research on Aflasafe KE01, said the product is affordable, natural and environmentally safe. Once applied to a field, the effects last multiple growing seasons, making it extremely effective.
She explained that Aflasafe KE01 works by introducing naturally-occurring nontoxic strains of the fungus, which have a competitive advantage over the strains that produce the deadly aflatoxin. The nontoxic strains then out compete with the toxic strains, reducing aflatoxin contamination.
The technology was developed by USDA-ARS and it is being tested in 13 African countries, including Burundi, Rwanda Tanzania and Uganda, but only Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal have registered it.
According to Mutegi, the KALRO plant is the first of its kind in East Africa and the second after the one in Nigeria for manufacturing Aflasafe KE01. The plant uses a novel manufacturing process to produce the biopesticide for African farmers.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.