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Theme 4: Building capacity to effectively prevent and control aflatoxins

Even with an increased awareness of aflatoxins and associated risks, African capacity to effectively respond to the problem will still be lacking.

This applies to facilities and equipment. In Africa there is a lack of both reference laboratories for screening samples, and laboratory facilities for developing techniques or adapting them to the region.

Human capacity is also inadequate. Small-scale farmers, traders, transporters and processors, even if aware of aflatoxins and its impacts, may not know how to minimize the risk of contamination or to identify unsafe batches. Health professionals are often not aware of potential health risks and are not equipped to carry out rapid diagnoses.

Policy makers, development partners and investors are also uninformed of the scale of the problem, leaving them ill-placed to make sound policy and investment decisions. Those responsible for enforcing standards – where they exist – are not equipped to do so, and there is a general lack of capacity to apply risk-based approaches in developing policies and regulations.

In working to fill capacity gaps among institutions and individuals – with particular effort to reach women – PACA and its partners have three main aims:

  • To increase capacity for risk assessment in African institutions
  • To improve competency and infrastructure for testing and diagnosis
  • To build capacity to implement best practice in aflatoxin management

Increasing capacity for risk assessment

Risk-based approaches to developing policies and regulations focus on responding to actual risks rather than on developing prescriptive rules; they enable limited resources to be better targeted. Such methods depend on the accurate assessment, quantification and monitoring of risk.

In Africa, where there is a shortage of personnel trained in risk-based approaches, PACA aims to build national and regional capacity in this area, particularly in the context of aflatoxin risks.

PACA will work to strengthen risk-based analysis and regulatory science training programmes by including examples relevant to the African context and the aflatoxin challenge, while advocating for a shift towards more risk-based decision making across all sectors.

There will be greater sharing of information and experience on risk-based approaches for managing aflatoxins, both through the PACA platform and through a new, dedicated database of risk assessment experts. These experts should be encouraged to train and mentor others, helping to lead an emerging community of practice.

PACA will also gather and analyze data on aflatoxins in order to build predictive models, define scenarios and highlight potential patterns of crop contamination due to climate change.

Improving aflatoxin testing and diagnosis

Testing for contamination in commodities and feeds, and diagnosing cases of poisoning among people and animals, requires robust monitoring systems. Preferably, these systems should be harmonized across all countries within the same regional trading block. The accuracy and reliability of such systems depends on adequate equipment, facilities and resources – as well as a sufficiently skilled workforce.

PACA will develop guidelines and standard operating procedures for sampling and testing agricultural products and for diagnosing aflatoxin poisoning in humans, working closely with food safety authorities, health agencies and researchers.

The Partnership will also develop appropriate facilities and curricula for regional and national training and will help mobilize resources for effective monitoring and diagnosis. A continent-wide database will be created, gathering details of individuals with relevant training and of existing laboratory facilities.

Building capacity to implement best practice

With growing awareness of aflatoxins and more rigorous monitoring systems, Africa will see greater demand for training on aflatoxin-related management, prevention and control. Curricula and training materials will need to be developed and expanded in collaboration with specialized laboratories, research institutions, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research Centers, farmer organizations and non-governmental organizations, among others.

PACA will develop and test training modules on aflatoxin management to be integrated into existing courses for both extension workers and medical professionals. For the former, curricula need to cover the impacts of aflatoxins, and options for reducing contamination along value chains. Training for medical professionals must equip them to diagnose and treat both acute cases of poisoning and the effects of longer-term chronic exposure.

Once tested and validated, training modules will be made easily accessible for use and adaptation – and potential improvement – by others.

PACA will also develop and test materials and innovative ways to promote aflatoxin-related best practices. These will need to be targeted to the various audiences and encourage the sharing of results for maximum impact.