Tracking Aflatoxin with Tablets

From MFK Agriculture Research and Extension Program Specialist Ben Wiseman

Aflatoxin control is one of the central focuses of MFK’s agriculture department.  It is a tenet of our farmer training program, a consideration in our purchasing decisions, and the impetus for our current project with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).  Aflatoxin, however, is hard to track.  Its inconspicuous nature is a barrier to effective aflatoxin control on the peanut market in Haiti.  Aflatoxin doesn’t taste bad, doesn’t look bad, and unless you ingest extremely high concentrations of the toxin, it won’t make you feel sick when you eat it.  Most of aflatoxin’s harmful effects appear in the form of cancer, stunting, or birth-defects.  The delayed effects of the toxicity add to the difficulty of tracking the toxin.

The MFK agriculture team seeks to study aflatoxin to quantify it numerically, and to characterize its patterns of development in the peanut markets in Haiti.  Aflatoxin is an organic molecule, and typically, quantifying the level of a molecule such as aflatoxin would require advanced and expensive laboratory equipment.  Fortunately, a few agricultural biotechnology companies have made field-ready kits for aflatoxin tests, expanding the accessibility of aflatoxin quantification. With these kits, the agriculture department at MFK can extract aflatoxin using a kitchen blender and ethanol and then  quantify aflatoxin using test strips and a  tablet computer.

In July, the MFK agriculture team began testing a series of 100 peanut samples that were collected from the Nord Est region of Haiti.  These samples were collected as part of the project MFK is undertaking with the support of the IDRC.  The goal for this stage of the project is to characterize the peanut-value chain in the Nord Est department of Haiti in context of aflatoxin contamination.  MFK’s agriculture team will continue to collect peanut samples from farmers, merchants, consolidators, and processors over the next two months.  As these samples are collected, they will be promptly tested for aflatoxin.

While the tablet-based aflatoxin quantification equipment is ideal for the MFK agriculture team, the tests are still far off from being accessible for most actors on the peanut value chain in Haiti.  MFK’s work with the IDRC explores possibilities for more wide-spread aflatoxin abatement in Haiti.  We are looking for patterns of aflatoxin contamination in order to know the most vital stages of trade to implement actions for aflatoxin control.  How could abatement techniques, such as regular aflatoxin inspections utilizing field test kits, be integrated into the peanut value chain of Haiti?  More widespread use of emerging technologies like mobile aflatoxin tests hold promise for aflatoxin abatement in Haiti and thus a more safe food supply

Follow the MFK agriculture team’s work with the IDRC on the AFLAH project website coordinated by Laval University: http://aflah.fsaa.ulaval.ca/

This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada.  The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of IDRC or its Board of Governors neither of Université Laval.