News / Africa

Harmless Fungus Protects African Crops from Deadly Strain

Possible solution to Kenya's fatal aflatoxin outbreaks

People sharing and distributing aflasafe on a farm in Nigeria.
People sharing and distributing aflasafe on a farm in Nigeria.

Multimedia

Audio

As Kenya suffers with another outbreak of deadly aflatoxin contamination, scientists say a harmless version of the fungus that produces the toxin could be a powerful ally in preventing future outbreaks.

Aflatoxin is a natural poison produced by a fungus that grows on maize, cassava, ground nuts, and other crops. The mold thrives in hot, humid conditions.

At high doses, aflatoxin causes liver damage that can be fatal. A 2004 outbreak in Kenya killed at least 125 people.

This month, the Kenyan government warned that at least one person had died and 2.3 million bags of maize were contaminated with the poison.

Aflatoxin is dangerous even at low doses. It can cause cancer, stunt children's growth, and weaken the immune system.

Men distributing aflasafe to farmers in Nigeria.
Men distributing aflasafe to farmers in Nigeria.

Giving the good guys a head start

Some of the strains found in Kenya produce especially high levels of aflatoxin. But Peter Cotty, a plant disease expert with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says there also are naturally occurring strains of the fungus in Kenya that produce no aflatoxin at all.

"They occur already in the villages. They're just at low frequency," he says. "We can use techniques to find these fungi, and we can release them in a manner that allows them to out-compete these very high toxin-producers."

Cotty and his colleagues help the harmless fungi compete by giving them a head start over the bad guys. They grow the good guys on grains such as barley or sorghum that are sterilized so they don't sprout. When farmers spread these grains among their crops, the harmless mold proliferates, feeding on dead plants and insects. It will "multiply and spread throughout the field and displace the toxin producers," he says.

Fighting fungus with fungus

Cotty and colleagues at the Nigeria-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) have registered a product called Aflasafe with Nigerian regulators. In field tests last year, farmers who used the grains coated with harmless fungi reduced aflatoxin contamination by an average of 80 percent.

U.S. farmers are also fighting fungus with fungus. For example, cotton growers need to ward off aflatoxin contamination or they won't be able to sell the seeds for animal feed. Michael Braverman at Rutgers University manages a program helping scientists register new natural crop protection products with U.S. regulators. He says cotton growers in the southwestern state of Arizona use the same method being tested in Nigeria.

"It's effective enough that the growers in Arizona have built their own facility to manufacture this product," he says. "They are not only consumers of the product, they are the official body that owns the registration."

Peter Cotty and the IITA are now looking for a partner to bring the technology to farmers in Kenya, where aflatoxin contamination is taking a terrible toll on people and the economy.

You May Like

Report: $60 Billion Leaves Africa Illegally Each Year

Report by a joint UN and African Union panel says African countries need to take concrete measures to stop billions of dollars from illegally being moved out of continent each year More

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Some analysts say Russian Tu-95 bombers were flying near British airspace to warn Britain about an inquest into a murdered Russian spy More

Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

He rejects concerns about how the West might perceive his leadership, saying he's focused on African development More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relationsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
January 31, 2015 10:50 PM
Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Neighborhood Divided Over Conflict

People in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts find themselves squarely in the path of advancing Russian-backed rebels, who want to take back the territory they held at the beginning of the conflict last year. Many local residents are afraid, but others would welcome the change, even when a rebel shell lands in their neighborhood. From the Luhansk district, 15 kilometers from where the Ukrainian government marks the front line, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid