Technologies for decontamination such as ozonation, gamma-radiation, and degradation by bacteria and yeast show promise but are not yet available at scale.
Thus, prevention is critical for both health and economic reasons. But training and access to low-cost tools for farmers to use while drying and storing their maize, such as plastic sheeting could reduce the negative effect of aflatoxin.
An experiment in Kenya
To better understand how to help farmers improve their practices and preserve their crops, we conducted an experimental study with maize farmers in Kenya.
- We worked with 30 villages in Meru and Tharaka-Nithi counties, a part of Kenya where aflatoxin contamination in the maize crop leads to frequent, and sometimes fatal, outbreaks of aflatoxicosis: a condition that results from eating food contaminated with aflatoxins.
- We worked with nearly 700 households, all of which included either a pregnant woman or a child under two years old. After villages were randomly assigned to intervention and control groups, the study team visited 15 study villages assigned to the intervention group prior to the maize harvest and provided households with training and materials that they could use to improve their post-harvest handling of maize.
- The training described better postharvest handling and storing of maize. This included both information on the risks of mishandling, and strategies to prevent aflatoxin growth. We discussed why farmers should prevent contact between the harvested crop and the ground, and also explained drying and shelling techniques and the importance of storing crops in clean bags off the ground.
- We provided free plastic drying sheets to all who attended training. Also, some farmers were randomly selected to receive a hermetic storage bag – an airtight bag that kills insect pests through suffocation – and or the opportunity to purchase such bags.
- Depending on a random draw, farmers paid the full cost of 220 Kenyan shillings (about US$2.2 per bag, or just 95 US cents per bag.