The future

The future activities of the CRSPs in relation to mycotoxins will depend on sustained support by USAID. Assuming that these CRSPs continue, the mycotoxins will remain a high priority, particularly for the Peanut CRSP, where the long term investment in preventing contamination by genetic means could be taken to the field during the next ten years. Other management options also seem likely to be adopted as the broader implications of immune suppression and nutritional interference become better known and consumers begin to create the economic incentives required for the supply chain to justify production of foods with lesser amounts of aflatoxin (Williams, Chapter 30).

Although a lower risk of mycotoxins in sorghum and millet is an important reason to increase the use of these commodities, the present trend to replace them with maize will continue until the hazards of mycotoxins are better understood by the consumers. Changing this perception requires additional research to document the importance of mycotoxins to the epidemiology of priority health risks and to support the current preliminary conclusions regarding the increased safety of sorghum and millet. We believe that USAID has the opportunity to provide world leadership by making the health of local populations at least as important as international trade in agricultural commodities.

The research to date on the use of enterosorption to reduce human aflatoxicosis indicates that such an effort could be easily justified. Virtually everyone living in West Africa carries biomarkers of chronic exposure to aflatoxin. Such chronic exposure interferes with both general nutrition (Gong et al., Chapter 6), micronutrition (Turner et al., 2003) and immunity (Jolly et al., Chapter 5). We also know from the studies done both on animals and humans that there are (as yet) no known risks to the use of this clay as a dietary supplement. One of the major advantages of this approach is that it is effective for the toxin in multiple foods, i.e., it is toxin-specific rather than commodity specific. At the very least this technology enables epidemiological studies that can establish the extent to which aflatoxins contribute to presently identified risks. Such knowledge is needed to identify future options, to develop research agendas, and to define intervention strategies. The use of enterosorption could be justified on a broad basis until management advances have been made and adopted by small-scale farmers and informal food system participants.

When considering aflatoxins produced by Aspergillus and fumonisins produced by Fu-sarium in cereals such as sorghum, millets and maize and in peanuts, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Thus, the primary management strategy should be to prevent mycotoxins from ever forming on foodstuffs. Because of the susceptibility of maize to my-cotoxin load, sorghum and millet should be grown instead of maize, especially in marginal environments where the drought and heat stress increase mycotoxin levels in maize. Genetic resistance is another approach. Genes for resistance to Aspergillus and Fusarium have been identified in cereals and peanuts. Deployment of resistant varieties holds promise as a management strategy and needs increased research effort. Also, research has identified natural products that decrease mycotoxin levels when mixed with peanuts in storage. Hydrated bentonite clay can bind aflatoxins in peanut oil. However, these strategies are not being adopted by farmers and thus there remains a need to develop practical methods that are farmer acceptable and effective, economical and easy to use.

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