Debate on research priorities related to the push-pull approach and aflatoxin mitigation

12 – 25 September 2016. PAEPARD held an online debate during two weeks with experts or actors which are implementing research and development activities related to aflatoxin.

Blog posts views:
Slideshare views:

The International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) have been invited by PAEPARD to suggest innovative fundamental and applied research for the mitigation of aflatoxin contamination.

  • Recent observations from icipe indicate significantly reduced attack of maize by ear rots and mycotoxins with the push-pull technology, implying potential contribution of the technology to food safety. 
  • The Aflasafe products of IITA are ready to be manufactured and distributed to farmers at scale. There are presently further research needs for aflatoxin biocontrol using atoxigenic genotypes of Aspergillus flavus.

The first week (12-18/09/2016) discussed holistic approaches to aflatoxin : the push-pull and aflatoxins research needs
The second week (19-25/09/2016) discussed research needs related to aflatoxin biocontrol

Both back ground notes are introduced in video interviews:

  • PAEPARD video interview with Prof. Dr. Zeyaur R. Khan, Principal Scientist and Leader of the Push-Pull Programme at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe)
  • PAEPARD video interview with Dr. Charity Mutegi. She is the aflasafe project’s Kenya Country Coordinator.

This discussion was NOT held on the PAEPARD Dgroups but the sub-Dgroups:


  • October 2015 : PAEPARD produced a policy paper on: The role of multi-stakeholder partnerships between Africa and Europe exemplified by the issue of aflatoxin contamination of food and feed.
  • January 2016 A Round Table of aflatoxin experts was organised in Brussels. The purpose of this a Round Table was to provide new perspectives, share experiences and highlight potential solutions to the contamination of food and feed with aflatoxins that are re-emerging today in Europe but since decades have been threatening livelihoods and productivity growth in Africa and many other low income countries throughout the world.
  • 15-20 August 2016 : A field visit in Kenya was organised by the East African Farmers Federation in collaboration with the Max Rubner Institut (Germany) for German aflatoxin experts. 
  • 25-26 August 2016 : Meeting in Brussels USAID – DG Research and DG Health. 
  • 28 August 2016 : Deadline Public Consultation concerning potential priorities for the Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2018-2020 in the area of ‘Food Security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine and maritime and inland water research and the bioeconomy’ (Societal Challenge 2). The Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) and some other partner organisation submitted a contribution.
  • 14 September 2016. Deadline first draft scoping paper Societal Challenge 2 for the Programme Committee of SC2
  • 11-13 October, 2016. Entebbe, Uganda. The African Union Commission will host the 2nd PACA biennial Partnership Platform Meeting (PPM)
The first week (12-18/09/2016) discussed holistic approaches to aflatoxin mitigation. The push-pull research needs related to aflatoxins were used as a reference to trigger the debate. To kick-off the discussion two reactions on the note from icipe were featured. 
To illustrate the icipe note:

  • Prof. Dr. Zeyaur R. Khan, Principal Scientist and Leader of the Push-Pull Programme at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) was interviewed by PAEPARD on 22nd of August (icipe, Thomas Odhiambo Campus, Mbita Point, West-Kenya). 
  • A blog post contained the transcript of the interview, background videos on the push pull technology
  • At the bottom of this blog post the Power Point : “Improving Food Safety by Reducing Aflatoxin Infection in Cereal Crops grown under Push-Pull System”. (this icipe PPT was viewed 455 times) was presented.

Major contributions to the debate were released during the day. Reactions were compiled.

As a general introduction the kick-off refered to the PAEPARD video interview with Dr. Janet Edeme, Head Rural Economy Divison, African Union Commission, Dept. of Rural Economy and Agriculture. The special issue of AJFAND (August 2016) is a contribution to better understanding several aspects of the multi-faceted problem of aflatoxins, focused on East Africa.

 Dr. Edeme answered following questions:

·         How serious in the aflatoxin contamination?
·         What do you expect from donors?
·         Why is PACA important for multi stakeholder coordination?
·         Don’t we need greater awareness of the consumer?

Video interview with Dr. Janet Edeme

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Given that the push-pull technology controls stem borer there should be a reduction in fumonisin as well as aflatoxin.
I know we have tried to keep the discussion focused on aflatoxins but this may be an opportune moment to broaden the discussion if only to acknowledge that mechanisms to control one fungi can control others and create greater overall health and trade benefits.
Kind regards
Andrew Emmott
Senior Associate,
Twin and Twin Trading Ltd (TWIN)
[email protected]
Video interview with Andrew Emmott at the bottom of following blog post

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I am sure most on this list know I would agree with Andrew.
I think we are at a point where there is a larger strategic question.
For groundnuts and other nuts, aflatoxin is the problem. Any reasonable steps to reduce exposure from this crop are absolutely supported by the science and the economics.
On the science –as well documented by the JECFA and IARC WG 9- co-exposure to aflatoxin and fumonisin is the norm not the exception in most of Africa. The 2011 JECFA panel concluded that the best evidence at that time was that fumonisin and aflatoxin were additive for some toxic endpoints and synergistic for cancer. The 83rd JEFCA was asked to re-examine this question in November in the context of a new evaluation of aflatoxin (the last was in 1998) and an update on fumonisin (I am on the panel). That is to say the public health concern about co-exposure is clear. Actions that are effective for reducing aflatoxin in maize and do not reduce fumonisin exposure may not result in a reduced cancer burden and would not reduce for example the risk of birth defects from fumonisin exposure.
At the same time,  excepting the unborn of women who might be in the early stages of pregnancy when exposed, aflatoxin is much more acutely toxic to children than fumonisin. In light of the issue in Tanzania just now, it has troubled me that the research that is being discussed would not help. For the JECFA draft, I revived all the records of acute toxicity. This has been going on since the first measurements of aflatoxin were made in 1961. The only thing that would outright prevent acute toxicity is improving dietary diversity and better sorting.
The evidence supports actions that concurrently reduce the amounts of both toxins in maize versus actions that reduce aflatoxin alone.
It is now 25 years since the South Africans reported the structure of fumonisin co-concurrently with some knowledge of its effects. The US NTP study was finished 17 years ago. There is now adequate evidence that fumonisin exposure in the early stages of pregnancy results in birth defects in folate deficient populations.
For me, the decision-makers need to be briefed that difficult choices are now inescapable. How will actions that mainly address population level exposure aflatoxin in maize also exposed to fumonisin be regarded 10 years from now?
Prof. David Miller
Carleton University, Canada
Chair of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Working Group.
Video interview with Prof. David Miller at the bottom of following blog post

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The second week (19-25/09/2016) discussed research needs related to aflatoxin biocontrol
The Aflasafe products of IITA are ready to be manufactured and distributed to farmers at scale. There are presently further research needs for aflatoxin biocontrol using atoxigenic genotypes of Aspergillus flavus.

  • A back ground note (2 pages) was prepared by IITA.
  • It was introduced by Dr. Charity Mutegi (watched 123 times). She is the aflasafe project’s Kenya Country Coordinator.

Debate kick-off reactions:

Reaction from Prof. David Miller, Carleton University, Canada, Chair of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Working Group
– Monitor the performance of Aflasafe products –
Given the large number of exploratory investigations in Africa, studies are needed to evaluate the impact of the low rate of genetic recombination, which will then inform the deployment of the technology in diverse settings.
See OECD and USDA comments on this issue.
Hornok L (2011) Major Trends in Mycotoxin Research”, in OECD, Challenges for Agricultural Research, OECD Publishing.
” There is a need for the continuous monitoring of populations of toxigenic fungi to follow their changes driven by genetic and environmental factors.”
Moore, G. G. (2015). Sex and recombination in aflatoxigenic Aspergilli: global implications. Global health issues of aflatoxins in food and agriculture: Challenges and opportunities. Frontiers in Microbiology doi:  10.3389/fmicb.2014.00032
“Therefore, the fairly recent discovery of their sexual states creates a new wrinkle in our understanding of the field behavior of these agriculturally significant fungi. Sex within populations of these fungi eventually may create difficulties for their control; and subsequently for the protection of important human and animal food supplies. Moreover, if fungal sex is a form of response to ecological and environmental stressors, then perhaps human influence and climate change could accelerate this phenomenon.”
– Unsubstantiated hypothesis that Aflasafe application will increase fumonisin concentration in maize –
It seems to me that adding the qualifier “unsubstantiated” to hypothesis is prejudicial.
What is more important is that fumonisin is toxic, the JECFA states that co-exposures pose greater risk particularly for cancer.
Video interview with Prof. David Miller at the bottom of following blog post:
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Reaction from Dr. Hassan Ahmed El Sayed Amra, Food Toxicology and Contaminants Department, National Research Center Egypt :
A research proposal was submitted to the African Union Research Grant (closing 31/08/2016) for the identification of natural substrates or active agents able to limit the development of toxigenic fungi and/or mycotoxin synthesis.

Use of bio-control agents is proposed as a better pre-harvest tool as use of fungicides or chemicals can add to production costs. Proponents of bio-control agents also suggest that breeding for disease resistant crops is time consuming and does not address the problem of emerging virulent fungal species.
Several molecules have already been identified as potent AFB1 inhibitors (Holmes et al., 2008). Most of them block the synthesis early, by modifying the environment of the toxinogenic fungus.
Unfortunately, most of these molecules display toxic properties that do not allow their use on agricultural commodities.
The research proposal aims to develop alternative strategies to control aflatoxins and ochratoxin contamination based on the identification of natural compounds able to either inhibit Aspergillus development or specifically block mycotoxin synthesis.
This research project (if selected) is to identify new molecules of natural origin able to block Aspergillus development or toxin synthesis, for which the mechanism of action will be elucidated and that could be tested for application in the fields.
Video interview with Dr. Hassan Ahmed El Sayed Amra.
Dr. Hassan Ahmed El Sayed Amra answers following question: What were the benefits for Egypt to participate in the EU-funded MYCORED project?
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