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AflaPak Will Reduce Aflatoxins for Pakistan's Maize

This post was written by Deborah Hamilton and Marcela Trask with the Food Safety Network

Aflatoxins are potent toxins produced by several fungal species of the genus Aspergillus. They contaminate many of Pakistan’s agricultural products including cereal grains, chilies, dry fruits, and nuts. Milk also becomes contaminated after livestock consume contaminated grains. Each country develops its own aflatoxin biocontrol using the region’s indigenous fungi, native organisms with different crops trademarked under different geographically specific names. For example, in African countries, USDA, the Institute for International Tropical Agriculture, and other partners have developed Aflasafe.

Rafhan Maize AflaPak Application
                        Rafhan Maize AflaPak Application

In Pakistan, the average aflatoxin contamination level in maize is sixty times the level permitted in the U.S.[i] To address this problem, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), introduced its biological control technology in Pakistan through a partnership with the U.S. company, Ingredion, and its Pakistani subsidiar, Rafhan Maize. Called AflaPak™, this product is formulated specifically to reduce aflatoxin for maize grown in Pakistan. AflaPak uses safe non-aflatoxin producing strains of the fungus, Aspergillus flavus, to outcompete the deadlier aflatoxin producing strains. Farmers apply AflaPak to their plants two to three weeks before the flowering stage and before the toxic fungus strains can grow and colonize the maize. 

This is the first case of USDA aflatoxin bio-control being used in South Asia. To ensure that this technology reaches a range of crops and producers, USDA has organized a Pakistani-led working group with CABI, Rafhan Maize, NARC, and other guests. The partners held a formal project launch in October 2018 in Islamabad and meet monthly. USDA is supporting the program with two Cochran Fellowships and a series of scientific exchanges for in depth training.  USAID has agreed to continue to fund this work through 2023.   

This joint effort is already increasing Pakistan’s leadership in regional and global efforts to apply biological control technologies to grow safer crops. The program will ultimately reach livestock producers with a variation of the biocontrol aimed to reduce aflatoxin contamination for locally produced animal feeds.  This effort has received attention because of the private sector investment by Rafhan Maize. This is not a donor-driven effort and could be a model to replicate in which the private sector takes on a greater role at addressing the aflatoxin problem. The project team is working toward the first registration and uses of the bio-control technology in South Asia, where it is expected to improve food and feed safety and strengthen food security. 

Dr. Sabyan Faris Honey of CABI handing over vials of non-aflatoxion-producing A. flavus to Dr. Anjum Munir of NARC, with the Pakistan-based aflatoxin working group

[i] Aflatoxins in Pakistani Foods: A Serious Threat to Food Safety, SW Ali, S Afzaal - Journal of Hygienic Engineering and Design, 2014