Meridian Institute, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (DfID), and in partnership with a broad range of organizations globally, is supporting the Africa-led Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA). Through the leadership of the African Union Commission, and with interest from African and other governments, Regional Economic Communities, the private sector, farmers’ organizations, and civil society leaders from across Africa, a comprehensive, Africa-wide approach to aflatoxin control is being established.
Aflatoxin is a naturally occurring but highly toxic substance caused by fungi. The toxin is linked to liver disease and cancer and associated with immune-system suppression, growth retardation, and death in both humans and domestic animals. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 25 percent of world food crops are affected by aflatoxin, and countries that are situated between 40ºN and 40ºS of the equator all around the globe are most at risk. While aflatoxin-control measures are implemented in developed and international markets, many of the 1 billion people who live on less than $1 per day rely on their own agricultural production for food, which can contain harmful levels of aflatoxin.
PACA aims to adapt proven solutions, and identify new ones, that will work for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Comprehensive solutions will be developed addressing the health, nutrition, trade, and agricultural impacts of aflatoxin. Solutions will include effective measures to control aflatoxin along the value chain, from crop production to processing to food preparation to consumption. For instance, native strains of beneficial fungi have been shown to dramatically reduce the prevalence of aflatoxin in the field and in storage. Proper drying and storage can help further control aflatoxin. Many other measures can be taken to reduce aflatoxin exposure to local consumers and improve opportunities to sell aflatoxin-safe crops to markets, but measures need to be supported by appropriate policy and regulatory actions. It is expected that comprehensive and feasible solutions being developed for the African small farmer context will also be useful for other regions where aflatoxin is a problem.
Stakeholders from African institutions and governments, private companies, funding organizations, farmers’ organizations, and others began to explore the creation of PACA in 2010. Participants from all over Africa endorsed the idea during the March 2011 meeting of the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) Partnership Platform. The first PACA organizational meeting took place in October 2011, and the first PACA Interim Steering Committee will take place in March 2012.
Meridian Institute will work in partnership with numerous technical and other partner organizations to support African stakeholders in creating PACA. Initial activities to support PACA will include:
- Secretariat support: Establish a secretariat for PACA—initially managed by Meridian Institute, transitioning to an African partner as quickly as possible.
- Staff support: Support Africa-based staff focused on PACA activities.
- Country assessments: Develop a framework for country stakeholder engagement and aflatoxin assessment processes.
- Economic analysis: Build on prior work in order to better assess the economic impacts of aflatoxin.
- Expansion of biocontrol: Work to create region-specific biocontrol products that use beneficial fungi. Test and demonstrate efficacy, educate farmers and stakeholders, and produce, market, and distribute products in such a way as to ensure that small farmers can access and afford them.
- Post-harvest storage, drying, and handling: Support the development and implementation of low-cost storage and drying technology for feed and food storage.
- Understanding health impacts: Support efforts to study and/or mitigate the health impacts of aflatoxin.