Aflasafe: Topics to Discuss by William Lanier NeverIdle (Ghana)
AflaSafe is a biocontrol fungus that International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) 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 [invisible aflatoxin], agent, pest or crop (Anonymous, 2016).
Topic 1. Environmental stress
IITA guidelines say visible green/blue growth is welcome and likely visible on a new crop. But unlike seed, there is no practical germination tests to evaluate if stress like 50 or more degrees C and/or exposure to 80% humidity means the mold is harmless AflaSafe or pest (PACA, 2017)? Agronomists apply visual growth staging to determine the “cause versus coincidence” dilemma of pesticide or fertilizer applications. However, when environments cause drifting, there are no practical identification guidelines that determine if harmless AflaSafe met similar toxigenic mold and instead of “competitive exclusion” (IITA, 2011), exchanged DNA to create another pest (Biology 101).
Who determines the “cause versus coincidence” dilemma when after harvest a distant lab test rejects mold (toxic or not) 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 cook’s mold (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, mold 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 toxigenic mold contaminates 30% of a field. However, only 30% to maximal 50% of typical contamination is at levels that causes rejection. Guidelines lacking practical identification guides, which promote application of 10-20 kg of Aflasafe per hectare to entire fields, ignore economic IPM thresholds that are proven to sustain environments. Ignoring environments creates another dilemma. This final dilemma is conservation versus the cost of other mold, inputs and warehouses needed for 10-20 kg per hectare of sorghum carrier for Aflasafe, and feed and food. When a carrier like sorghum is applied area-wide, resources like feed, food and labor are removed from already insecure areas.
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, input agribusiness outreach sets the SSA agricultural research and education agenda to facilitate profit through the sale of mechanization, seeds, fertilizers, and biological pest controls (Gross production technologies). Agribusiness sees little profit in storing food once inputs produce it. In fact, SSA agribusiness actually profits from mold in storage as this Postharvest and input loss (PHL) reduces Net food security, facilitating the perception that inputs like AflaSafe are needed to increase production (Wilson, 2016). In other words, SSA agribusiness accepts that mold will persist until abiotic problems like rewetting (Trenk, 1970) in poor storage allow PHL to flourish and significantly reduce Net food security (Kumar, 2017).
Summary Discussion and Solution IITA says if Aflasafe is applied within stringent guidelines to the soil before harvest, toxigenic mold will be excluded from storage. However, Aflasafe produces the same levels of repulsive musty/moldy odor. The moldy physical appearance of the grain and musty odor act as a danger warning system and significantly lower the marketability of grain.
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).
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