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Theme 1: Generating and promoting research and technology to prevent and control aflatoxins

Current efforts to combat aflatoxins in Africa rely on a research base that is often fragmented and uncoordinated. Links between those who develop technologies and those who could make use of them are weak. Research that is better targeted and that involves end users, such as farmers, crop hauliers and food handlers is needed. Such participative research is central to PACA’s remit in Africa.

In applying research and technology to the control of aflatoxins in Africa, PACA has four main aims:

  • To provide evidence that informs interventions to prevent and control aflatoxins
  • To adapt and facilitate the adoption of existing technologies
  • To generate new technologies and knowledge
  • To enhance access to research facilities

Providing information and evidence

In making decisions on how to control and prevent aflatoxin contamination and exposure, policy makers, investors, programme managers, farmers and food handlers have a tough task. Their actions can only be effective if the information on which they base their decisions is coherent, reliable and easily accessible.

To ensure this is the case, PACA will facilitate collaborative partnerships among African institutions and with their counterparts across the globe. These partnerships will establish systems to collect, store, and use data in ways that are cost-effective, reliable, and workable in the long term.

PACA’s actions will take a variety of forms. Working with both public and private sectors, PACA will develop an aflatoxin database to bring together existing and new information on prevalence and exposure patterns, as well as available technologies, policy issues and initiatives.

PACA will also help develop baseline studies and literature reviews to assess and put together accurate data on the effectiveness of aflatoxin control interventions; economic and public health impacts; and the behaviour and attitude of producers, consumers and traders.

More current information to inform policies and action around food safety can be obtained through epidemiological surveillance systems. Over time, PACA will support interested countries to establish or strengthen surveillance and monitoring systems, and create ‘early warning’ data collection systems needed for identifying outbreaks of aflatoxin. In addition, PACA will help create computer models and other predictive tools to support risk analyses and to forecast potential aflatoxin outbreaks in different parts of Africa.

Adapting and facilitating the adoption of existing technologies

PACA will facilitate partnerships that enable the wider deployment and adoption of existing knowledge and technologies.

PACA will profile promising approaches and technologies, encouraging the African aflatoxin research community to adapt them for wider use across the continent. In particular, PACA will support the piloting of existing technologies in specific contexts. In this way, researchers can test the usefulness of individual techniques in particular countries, regions or sets of circumstances. This ‘research into use’ method of testing will generate tailored ‘best practice’ advice for food producers and handlers.

One existing intervention that has made significant research progress is bio-control. Scientists have already identified atoxic strains of Aspergillus mould that will outcompete their aflatoxin-producing relatives in field situations. The challenge now is to ensure that this technique becomes widely available, on a cost-effective basis, to smallholder farmers across Africa.

To help with promoting existing technologies and best practice, PACA aims to identify the barriers that prevent farmers and businesses from adopting new technologies. The Partnership will develop pilot projects focused on identifying ways of overcoming these barriers, for example through public–private partnerships.

Generating new technologies

To maximize its chances of success, the fight against aflatoxins requires new as well as existing technologies to prevent or reduce aflatoxin contamination in the field and during storage and handling processes after harvest. Over time, PACA will promote and facilitate the exploration of new technologies such as the breeding of crop varieties resistant to aflatoxins.

PACA is also concerned with the timely and reliable identification of contaminated foods, and with the detection of exposure in humans. Currently, available diagnostics are expensive and generally involve off-site laboratories, which presents a major problem in Africa. PACA will support work to develop affordable and simple diagnostic kits for on-site use.

Finally, PACA will support efforts aimed at developing technologies to facilitate alternative uses of material contaminated by aflatoxins. These technologies include detoxifying contaminated food and animal feed using, for example, inorganic salts.

Enhancing access to research facilities

Another important aspect to PACA’s work is enabling the African research community to access the facilities and technologies it needs to combat aflatoxins. This will involve establishing shared laboratories and brokering collaborations between African research organizations and institutions outside the continent. PACA will also aim to involve technology developers in the private sector.