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Eliminating Aflatoxin Goal Of Kenya Program

Aflatoxin is a problem in some corn fields in the U.S., where infection of the fungus typically means either additional storage costs or occasional refusal of loads of the grain at the local elevator.

In Kenya, though, the crop disease means a lot more. Corn is grown more for human consumption there, and aflatoxin can cause serious illness and death if enough is consumed. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) considers aflatoxin a "public health problem" in Kenya and when the disease started causing broader-scale health problems and fatalities about a decade ago, officials there said finding and constructing "culturally appropriate storage methods for dry maize" would be of utmost importance in stemming the disease and saving lives.

"Enhanced surveillance for human aflatoxin poisoning and testing of commercially sold maize for aflatoxin levels will lead to long-term improvements in public health," according to a CDC report.

That's exactly what's now happening thanks to AflaSTOP, a project from USAID, global agriculture development nonprofit ACDI/VOCA, Agribusiness Systems International (ASI) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Grain storage systems are far from standardized or uniform in Kenya, and the AflaSTOP project aims at commercializing a model system for storage and grain drying, according to a report from ACDI/VOCA project coordinator Alex Gebrehiwot.

"The AflaSTOP project selects, tests and deploys low-cost storage and drying options for maize and other staple crops in Kenya. The project works with local businesses to pilot a commercialization model and identify ways to stimulate full commercialization and adoption of effective, low-cost drying and storage options," according to Gebrehiwot. "AflaSTOP develops a comprehensive commercialization strategy for each selected storage and drying technology. The commercialization strategy includes elements focused on rapid market development, including the following four critical factors: supply; training; awareness; and access to finance. The project explores opportunities for scaling up the commercial pilot to other African countries. It will also capture and distribute lessons learned on the business case and models for smallholder storage and drying."

A challenge in establishing storage and drying systems in Kenya is most farms are small and most grain is raised "for household consumption." The latter makes grain storage extremely important, and AflaSTOP offers farmers different options for storage, including plastic tanks, metal silos, "hermetic cocoons" and plastic bags. Right now, the project is also testing different drying technology that could be commercialized for shared use among multiple farmers.

"AflaSTOP engages potential commercialization partners and advisors early on to inform the technology development activities and field tests and to help identify the technologies that are most likely to be commercially viable and likely to be adopted by smallholder farmers," according to Gebrehiwot. "After testing both drying and on-farm storage technologies in Kenya, specific technologies are identified to commercialize with selected manufacturing partners in Kenya. AflaSTOP develops a comprehensive commercialization strategy for each selected storage and drying technology."

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