Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

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    • In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), staple crops like maize, groundnut, and sorghum often become contaminated with aflatoxins, highly toxic and carcinogenic substances. This contamination adversely affects health, income, productivity, and trade. Aflatoxins are produced by certain fungi of the Aspergillus section Flavi, found in soil and crop debris. However, there are some A. flavus genotypes that cannot produce aflatoxins (i.e., atoxigenic) The community structure of these fungi determines the risk of aflatoxin contamination in crops. To combat aflatoxin contamination, a biocontrol method has been developed, utilizing atoxigenic isolates of A. flavus. By applying these strains to soil, the population of atoxigenic fungi increases, displacing toxigenic ones and reducing aflatoxin contamination in crops. This approach, known as the Aflasafe Initiative, leverages fungal biodiversity to improve soil, crop, human, and environmental health.

      The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), along with USDA-ARS, and various national and international partners, have made several biocontrol products commercially available for large-scale use in SSA. These products, marketed under the name Aflasafe, enable smallholder farmers to produce crops meeting stringent regulatory standards for aflatoxin levels, thus accessing premium markets. Key activities of the Aflasafe Initiative include raising awareness among stakeholders about aflatoxins and available solutions, identifying native atoxigenic isolates of A. flavus, conducting laboratory and field trials to select effective isolates, and developing industrial processes for biocontrol product manufacturing. Additionally, efforts are made to improve regulatory capacities, obtain approvals for biocontrol product usage, and analyze markets for commercialization options.

      Capacity building initiatives target local students, scientists, and stakeholders to ensure sustainable implementation of biocontrol strategies. Through these comprehensive activities, the Aflasafe Initiative seeks to address the complex challenge of aflatoxin contamination in SSA, offering a nature-positive solution that benefits agriculture, health, and trade sectors. By harnessing the biodiversity of naturally occurring atoxigenic fungi, the initiative not only mitigates aflatoxin contamination but also promotes ecological balance and resilience within agricultural ecosystems.