Mycotoxins: Invisible Toxins with Visible Impacts
A major challenge in international development is the high number of deaths due to under- and mal-nutrition. Millions of dollars are spent on nutrition outreach, education and health care system improvements—and linkages with agriculture are key to finding scaleable solutions. One clear link between agriculture and nutrition challenges is the prevalence of toxic by-products of mold, called mycotoxins, in low-income countries.
Mycotoxins can be present in up to 70 percent of diets in countries that heavily rely on staple crops such as maize and groundnut. As development practitioners, we cannot afford to ignore mycotoxins and the serious health implications they have for humans and livestock. Addressing the problem requires a multidiscplinary approach that needs to be carefully considered in program design.
To do this, we need to understand what mycotoxins are, how they manifest themselves and ways to mitigate the problem. Acute and long-term exposure to these toxins, which can be found in grains, fruits and vegetables, is associated with childhood stunting, reduced nutrient absorption, organ failure and cancer. Contamination begins in the field—where programs can have significant influence—and propagates at various points during harvest, processing and storage. Creative approaches are needed to combat mycotoxins in these complex environments. Whether you are just starting to learn about mycotoxins or have been trying to "break the mold" for years, join Agrilinks on May 20 to discuss how you and your organization can play a role in improving nutrition and health outcomes in low-income countries around the world.
What do mycotoxin contaminated crops look like?
The toxin itself is invisible to the naked eye. However, the fungus that produces mycotoxins can be seen. Aspergillus flavus, the fungus responsible for the production of aflatoxin (the most well-known mycotoxin) appears yellow-green in color. As the fungus ages the spores turn a darker green.
Photo Credits: International Institute of Tropical Agriculture