Trade Hub workshop in Benin addresses aflatoxin contamination in cereal sourcing

Participants and workshop leaders gather for a group photo during the Aflatoxins Trainer-of-Trainers workshop in Benin. Photo credit: Ms. Rebecca Weaver, Trade Hub.

Aflatoxins—caused by certain molds that occur in soil, decaying vegetation, and grains—seriously hinder West Africa’s regional cereals trade, and lead to serious health risks, including stunted growth, cancer, and death.

A recent Trade Hub four-country study on cereals sourcing for the agro-industrial sector in West Africa revealed that most buyers import from outside the region because of aflatoxin contamination of locally grown grains. During field- work for the study, a Trade Hub partner, Approche Communale pour le Marché Agricole (ACMA) identified a need to train trainers on aflatoxin control and management so that they in turn could pass this information on to cereals producers.

The Trade Hub’s trainer of trainers workshop on aflatoxin control and risk mitigation held in Porto Novo, Benin, from June 21-23 was designed to meet this need.

The Trade Hub tapped into its network across West Africa to provide the expertise to lead the sessions; ACMA mobilized stakeholders from the cereals sector and contributed cost share financial support.

Workshop leaders included Dr. Seydou Samaké, USDA and USAID ‎Agricultural Resources Advisor for West Africa (pictured in photo at left); Dr. Benoit Gnonlonfin, Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Specialist for ECOWAS SPS project; and Dr. Alejandro Ortega, Researcher, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. Mr. Kokou Zotoglo, the Trade Hub’s Staple Crops Specialist; and Mr. Bill Noble, the Trade Hub’s Value Chain Development Specialist also led sessions at the workshop. Photo credits: Trade Hub staff.

The thirty-six participants who attended the three day workshop were drawn from civil society, government institutions and producer organizations. Presentations focused on increasing their awareness and ability to understand aflatoxin development and key actions that can be taken to reduce and/or eliminate its impact on product quality.  The workshop used a trainer’s guide that can be re-used by the participants as they go forward to train others in the cascade training programs being planned.

Presentations and the ensuing discussions were lively and detailed, and focused on the economic impact of aflatoxin contamination and practical tools that participants could use to help producers and processors make the food they produce safer.  Dr Ortega, a leading plant pathologist from IITA noted that IITA has developed a product that can be applied to the soil to reduce the aflatoxin risk. However, he added, there are smaller actions, such as rapid drying, improving storage structures and the way that the cereals are stored that producers can take to mitigate aflatoxin contamination.  Dr. Ortega had calculated the economic impact of aflatoxin contamination. “In Tanzania, a nation with 53 million people, aflatoxin contamination is calculated to results in losses amounting around $250 M. Therefore, in a nation like Benin, with around 10 million people, aflatoxin contamination may cost, in terms of product spoiled and public health costs, around $40 M per year” he said.

In his presentation, which highlighted the work USAID and USDA are doing to reduce aflatoxin contamination in West Africa and around the world, Dr. Samaké added: “This training is so necessary because of the impact of aflatoxins on public health, food security and trade. Aflatoxin contamination is one of the major reasons why some African farmers cannot send their products to the U.S. It is basically a non-tariff barrier that is preventing several African companies from taking full advantage of the duty-free benefit under AGOA. Trainings like this make it more likely that farmers can meet international food safety standards.”

Dr. Gbemenou Joselin Benoit Gnonlonfin was pleased with the work that the workshop had done to raise awareness among stakeholders. “The ECOWAS perspective is that SPS matters are not given the proper attention at the regional level. ECOWAS is therefore trying to raise these issues at the country level, alert those responsible, and strengthen institutional capacity to better manage SPS matters at the regional level. If we don’t take appropriate measures to mitigate aflatoxin contamination and SPS matters at large this is what can happen to your population and your economy.”  He added “Events like these help those who are responsible strengthen their networking. They [all of the participants] have been working individually. From this gathering, the participants will start working in a network – linking them to each other. They can share information and experiences; this will help them disseminate information. This is what needs to happen if we are to reduce the impact of aflatoxin across Africa, make food safer, economies stronger and people healthier.”

Ms. Valérie Hounsounou from the IFDC noted how she would pass on the methods learned at the workshop to help mitigate the health risks posed by aflatoxins in Benin’s cereals chain. Photo credit: Ms. Rebecca Weaver, Trade Hub

Ms. Valérie Hounsounou, an agricultural business specialist with International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) working in Benin (pictured in photo below) noted that “This training has not only showed very well the consequences of aflatoxin contamination, but also has given us mechanisms that we can use to provide solutions. With the information we’ve gathered at this workshop, especially the training manual, we can give producers and processors information about products and techniques that will reduce aflatoxin contamination. We can help them make decisions that will make their cereals safer and help them command higher prices on regional and international markets.”

ACMA plans to organize four cascade trainings by September 2017 using the Trade Hub-developed Aflatoxin trainer’s guide.  The Trade Hub has received requests from other countries in West Africa for similar training; this could be organized by Hub partners, contingent on their being able to raise funds for this work.

The training workshop was crafted and managed by Trade Hub Staple Crops Specialist, Mr. Kokou Zotoglo.  Click here for more information about the Trade Hub’s work in the Cereals Regional Value Chain.

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