Making food and cash crops safer in the developing world – University of Reading11 December 2001
The food consumed by the population of poorer nations is not always safe. Groundnut (or peanut) is an important food and cash crop for the people of the drier regions of Africa and India.
However, groundnuts grown in these areas may also contain high concentrations of aflatoxins, carcinogenic compounds produced by Aspergillus fungi which are found naturally in the soil. A groundnut plant forms pods containing seeds below the ground and the developing groundnut pods are brought into contact with Aspergillus and, under certain conditions, infection of the pod occurs. The groundnut seed may then be infected by Aspergillus and contaminated by aflatoxins during crop harvest and the storage of the seed.
The Plant Environment Laboratory (PEL) in the Department of Agriculture is working with scientists, extension workers and farmers in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India to try to reduce the exposure of humans and livestock to aflatoxins in a project funded by the UK Department for International Development. Using new diagnostic tools, the team has detected levels of aflatoxins in the human and livestock food chain (e.g. in milk, groundnut feed and confectionery) that can be up to one hundred times greater than the maximum safe limit for consumption.
Simple changes to the way the groundnut crop is managed in the field, or to the processing and storage of the pods and seed, may provide a way of reducing the risk of contamination of the groundnut pods.
Two farming communities near Ananthapur in Andhra Pradesh are working with the project team to devise and test new management practices to reduce the risk of infection and contamination. Different seed storage conditions are being simulated using the controlled environment facilities at the PEL to provide more precise information on the storage conditions that provide a high risk to contamination by aflatoxins.
By putting together underlying science and farmer-preferred practices, researchers at the PEL hope to reduce the exposure of the human and livestock population to aflatoxins, and so improve the safety of their food.
For further details, please contact Sue Rayner or Carol Derham on 0118 378 8004/5 Fax 0118 378 8924.