AflaSafe is a biocontrol fungus that IITA research says mitigates sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) aflatoxin. Aflatoxin is a Class 1 Human carcinogen in feed and food grains that are infested with Aspergillus fl., a pest fungus that originates in soil (USAID, 2014).
Biocontrol agents may work effectively. However, all are inherently variable as environmental stress affects complex relationships between the pathogen , agent, pest or crop (Anonymous, 2016).
Topic 1. Environmental stress
IITA guidelines (00 min, 2017) say visible green/blue growth is welcome and likely visible on a new crop. But unlike seed, there is no practical germination test to evaluate if stress like 50 or more degrees C and/or exposure to 80% humidity means the growth is harmless AflaSafe or pest fungi (PACA, 2017).
Agronomists apply visual growth staging to determine the "cause versus coincidence" dilemma of pesticide or fertilizer applications. However, when environments cause drifting (IITA 03 mins, 2017), there is no practical guideline that determines if harmless AflaSafe did meet similar toxic fungi and instead of "competitive exclusion" (IITA, 2011), exchanged DNA to create another pest fungi (Biology 101).
Who determines the "cause versus coincidence" dilemma when after harvest a distant lab test rejects toxin levels beyond WHO or EU standards? Not knowing what caused this dilemma awards SSA agribusiness an excuse with which to dodge accountability. Rejected growers have no excuse, and thus grey markets deliver contaminated grain to dairy, processing mills or animal feed formulators who do not test or care if another's pot has toxin (AflaNet, 2017).
Topic 2. Guidelines and Conventions.
Stringent Biosecurity conventions and ecology dictate only indigenous strains are biocontrol in a given country (except with prior agreements). Even if each strain matches ecology, meets guidelines to survive environmental stress and impact on IITA's 2020 target of 500,000 hectares, toxic Aspergillus and mycotoxins still affect 42 other sensitive crops. A calculation based on FAOSTATs (2014) suggested 500,000 hectares would equate to a mere 1% of the sensitive SSA hectares (Anonymous, 2017).
Research suggests that typically aflatoxin contaminates 30% of a field. However, only 30% to maximal 50% of that contamination is at levels that cause rejection (Hell, 2017). Guidelines promoting application of 10-20 kg of AflaSafe per hectare to entire fields of 42 sensitive crops (IITA 4 mins, 2017), without "identification, monitoring, control and evaluation of economic thresholds" (IPM), creates another dilemma. This last but not least dilemma is ecosystem conservation versus the extensification needed to produce 10-20 kg per hectare of sorghum carrier that AflaSafe needs to survive stress, and feed and food. Adding sorghum carrier to food production for insecure areas would further deplete SSA foreign exchange reserves.
Topic 3. Extension research vs Agribusiness outreach
In SSA, an "at arm's length" peer like Land grant university / Cooperative State Extension does not exist and so the Nigerian National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control did not need to evaluate dilemma with "identification, monitoring, and control". Without any peer, agribusiness outreach sets the SSA agricultural research and education agenda to facilitate profit through the sale of mechanization, seeds, fertilizers, and pest controls (Gross production technologies). Agribusiness sees little profit in storing food once it is produced. In fact, SSA agribusiness actually profits from poor storage as this Postharvest and input loss (PHL) reduces Net food security, facilitating the perception that inputs like AflaSafe are needed to increase Gross production (Wilson, 2016). In other words, SSA agribusiness accepts that low levels of toxic Aspergillus will persist until abiotic problems like rewetting (Trenk, 1970) in poor storage allow biotic PHL to flourish and significantly reduce Net food security (Kumar, 2017).
Summary Discussion and Solution
If a chronic common denominator like PHL in poor storage reduces Net food security regardless of Gross production, why risk the AflaSafe dilemma?
ICRISAT (2017) confirms "Biocontrol applications of harmless Aspergillus strains to compete with toxic ones in the soil, have had very limited success in poor countries".
However mere qualitative comparison of solutions on poor and developed dryland areas has identified improved surplus food and feed grain storage. Good management can optimize improved surplus storage at dynamic PHL control points for Net food security (PAEPARD, 2017). Reducing PHL of surplus grain is a resource efficient way to improve Net food security without additional research, dilemma, inputs or Gross production (APHLIS, 2015).
Author: William Lanier NeverIdle Farms (Ghana)
ICRISAT 2017. Groundnut immunity to Aflatoxin. Retrieved <www.icrisat.org/groundnut-immunity-to-aflatoxin/>
IITA, 2011. "IITA aflasafe | A safe and cost-effective biocontrol product that reduces aflatoxin in field and stores" contact: Dr Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, IITA, PMB 5320, Ibadan, Nigeria.
IITA 2017. AflaSafe to Protect Maize and Groundnuts from Aflatoxin. Retrieved <Using Aflasafe to protect maize and groundnuts from aflatoxin - Nigeria (English)>