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

Multimedia In US, Decision Expected Soon in Racially Charged Case

Missouri town, many Americans on edge over whether jurors will indict white police officer in August shooting death of unarmed black teen More

Corruption Fighters Want More From World’s Strongest Nations

Anti-corruption activists say final communique fell short of expectations and failed to fully address systemic problems More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project 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.
Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Faminei
X
Daniel Schearf
November 23, 2014 4:32 PM
During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video Law Enforcement, Activists in Ferguson Agree to Keep Peace

Authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, say they have agreed with protest leaders to maintain peace when a grand jury reaches its decision on whether to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of a black teenager. Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, has been the scene of intermittent violence since the August 9 shooting intensified long-simmering antagonism between the police and the African-American community. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid