Assessing farm-level solutions for aflatoxin control

Credit: J.Atehnkeng (IITA)

Credit: J.Atehnkeng (IITA)

Under its food safety portfolio, A4NH is tackling one of the biggest threats to human health, nutrition, and livelihoods in developing countries: aflatoxins. These naturally occurring fungal toxins are known to contaminate important food crops, such as maize, and unfortunately, are not simple (or cheap) to detect and address.

A series of aflatoxin briefs published by IFPRI in 2013 compiled approaches and solutions from leading experts. Furthermore, A4NH has been investing in biocontrol technologies, such as Aflasafe™, meant to stop aflatoxin contamination before it occurs.

However, a newly published discussion paper assessed how a theory of change (an approach for analyzing complex problems and guiding impact) can help explain adoption of farm-level technologies and practices for reducing aflatoxin exposure among consumers.

Nancy Johnson, a co-author of the paper and a senior research fellow for A4NH, was quoted in SciDev.Net discussing the recent paper. While she called for interventions to control aflatoxins, she further explained, “Technology is key in addressing the aflatoxin problem but so are well-designed policies, programmes and regulations, and education and awareness among consumers”.

Johnson explained the benefit of creating theories of change to better understand such a complex problem, and to better identify key partners and target research to address current evidence gaps. In this case, Johnson concluded that more evidence is needed to determine whether a large number of farmers will adopt risk-mitigating technologies and practices.

Furthermore, it remains unclear whether the food produced by these farmers, while lower in aflatoxin-levels than conventional production, will actually be consumed by those at greatest risk. It is possible that farmers could sell their aflatoxin-free produce to high value markets, which does little to stem public health risks.