By NBF News

THE International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the World Bank are collaborating to curtail contamination of food crops by aflatoxins, as the nation is planning to make agriculture the main driver of its economy.

The new approach, which includes drawing a road map to tackle aflatoxins, is part of the Commercial Agriculture Development Programme (CADP) that is being supported by the World Bank. The new initiative is being implemented in Kano, Kaduna, Enugu, Cross River and Lagos states.

National Co-ordinator of CADP, A.M Babandi, said at the weekend that the move was a major step by the government to ensure food safety and food security.

According to a statement from IITA, Aspergillus flavusĀ  produced by the fungus aflatoxins are fungal contaminants that hurt trade and people's health. Studies have indicated the they cause liver cancer in humans.

In some cases, such as in Kenya, aflatoxin-contaminated maize consumed resulted in several deaths. Poultry and fish are particularly vulnerable to aflatoxins, which influence their productivity.

In Nigeria, resource-poor maize farmers face rejection from the premium food market due to aflatoxin contamination.

The collaboration among Nigeria, IITA, and the World Bank will roll out and make available to farmers a biocontrol product called aflasafe that would stop the aflatoxin menace.

Commenting on the development, IITA Pathologist, Ranajit Bandyopadhyay stated, 'this is good news to farmers because they now have a solution to the problem. If farmers apply aflasafe, they can sell their maize at premium prices and above all it would guarantee the safety of home-grown food and health of consumers.

In on-farm research trials in Kaduna State-north central Nigeria -during 2009 and 2010, farmers, who treated their fields with aflasafe were able to reduce the levels of aflatoxin contamination by about 80 to 90 per cent. The efficacy of aflasafe earned the product a provisional registration from National Agency for Food, Drugs, Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

Stakeholders including farmers at the meeting in Ibadan discussed efforts to stem aflatoxin spread. They unanimously agreed that a collective action was necessary to tackle aflatoxins, with Nestle considering supporting farmers with training on pre- and post-harvest handling of maize including storage.

Senior Operations Officer, World Bank, Lucas Akapa said the meeting was a success as partners agreed 'to develop a holistic strategy to help Nigeria fight aflatoxins.'

'At the end, we hope to have a road map, which will be driven by Nigerians with the purpose of ending the menace of aflatoxins, enhancing farmers' income, and guaranteeing food safety,' he added.