Thursday, 15 March 2012

Gates Foundation Supporting Eradication of Mycotoxin in 3rd World Food

There is a well known and  long standing problem in the developing world that it is difficult to grow enough food to adequately feed the growing population. The Bill Gates Foundation recently announced another  $200 million in grants to small farmers in poorer parts of  Africa and Asia to allow them to improve productivity - far better to enable farmers to feed their own people than have to ship in food supplies from outside when famine strikes.

There are several aspects of increasing food productivity that this money addresses, including

  • Supported the release of 34 new varieties of drought-tolerant maize
  • Delivered vaccines to tens of millions of livestock
  • Trained more than 10,000 agro-dealers to equip and train farmers
New foundation grants will go to support:
  • Breaking down gender barriers so women farmers can increase productivity
  • Controlling contamination that affects 25 percent of world food crops
  • Creating an innovative system to monitor the effects of agricultural productivity on the population and environment
A major focus is on preventing contamination of food stocks, mainly by aflatoxins produced when Aspergillus species infect stored grain (PACA), and when crops in the field are damaged by drought, wind or insect infestations.
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, and 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.  

As can be seen from these figures (25% of world food crops) this is a massive problem, much of it preventable if the grain can be dried and stored correctly. Partly this requires investment in communal drying equipment, partly training of farmers to do the right things. Regardless, the highlighting of this issue by high profile organisations like the Gates Foundation can only do good.

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