IITA partners with Harvestfield Industries Limited for the commercialization of a biocontrol product in Nigeria Aflasafe™

2 December 2020

In January 2018, IITA signed a 5-year Technology Transfer and Licensing Agreement (exclusive, non-transferable right to exploit the Know How and Licenses for manufacturing and distribution of Aflasafe in Nigeria) with Harvestfield Industries Limited (https://harvestfield-ng.com/). Harvestfield Industries Limited was founded in 2000, commencing business in 2001, mainly importing and distributing agrochemicals and agricultural spraying equipment. Harvestfield also represents international companies in Nigeria such as Bayer, Dow, BASF and East-West Seeds, and has entered joint ventures with external partners. Harvestfield has 18 field offices/warehouses in all six geo-political zones of Nigeria.

AflasafeTM is the Nigerian biocontrol product, developed by IITA in close collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), the University of Bonn (Germany) and University of Ibadan (Nigeria), which reduces the prevalence of aflatoxins in treated maize and groundnut by 80% – 99% from farm to fork. Following years of painstaking scientific work to develop products tailored for Africa and firmly establish their efficacy, Aflasafe is ready to be manufactured and distributed to farmers at scale. The genetic material of Aflasafe (i.e., the non-toxin producing strains of Aspergillus flavus) came from Nigerian soil and maize crops. Maize grain and soil samples were collected from fields in 2003, and these strains were isolated in the laboratory during 2004 and 2005.

The Aflasafe Technology Transfer and Commercialization (ATTC) Program funded jointly by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is designed to carefully and efficiently identify strategic options for partnership with private companies or government entities, execute those partnerships and help ensure the products reach millions of farmers.

Aflatoxin in Nigeria’s food has alarming health consequences and crippling economic costs. Aflatoxin causes an estimated 5–30% of liver cancer worldwide, the highest incidence being in Africa (30%). A poison that is invisible, tasteless or odourless, aflatoxin suppresses the immune system and stunts child growth. Poisoning can begin even before birth through mother-to-baby transmission. Thereafter, many young children continue ingesting the toxin through bottle and breast milk – since aflatoxin gets passed on from food/feed to milk – and later through their earliest solid mouthfuls as they are weaned onto maize- or groundnut-based diets. It is an unforgiving and cumulative poison, piling up in our bodies as we continue to eat and drink contaminated foods. So dire is the problem that in some countries, studies show nearly all (more than 95%) of the children under five have aflatoxin in their bodies, indicating high aflatoxin exposure even at this early age. Approximately 40% of the produce in African markets exceeds the aflatoxin maxima allowed. Externally, Africa potentially loses up to USD 670 million annually in export opportunities. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, Nigeria’s groundnut exports have tumbled to near zero, from a high of 291,000 tonnes in 1970 to a mere 1,983 tonnes in 2013. According to the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa, aflatoxin is the most highly probable cause of this massive economic loss. Standing on solid science, Aflasafe is the fruit of more than a decade-and-a-half of dedicated publicly funded research by IITA and partners in and out of Africa.

Aflasafe market in Nigeria is at the infancy level where significant investment are required in market development, manufacturing and last mile delivery to achieve impact and reach the intended beneficiaries,. Therefore, there is a need to provide limited protection to investors interested in venturing into this business. Initial efforts to engage the private sector in Nigeria took place under the AgResults Nigeria Aflasafe Challenge Project (https://agresults.org/projects/nigeria), a 5-year initiative which sought to incentivize Aflasafe use by offering payment premium to aggregators and grain traders who provided maize grains containing high proportion of Aflasafe. By motivating them to use Aflasafe and providing them technical assistance, aggregators helped smallholder farmers to produce aflatoxin-reduced maize. A demonstration-scale plant at IITA manufactured Aflasafe for the AgResults project. An independent external evaluation of this project concluded that average smallholder annual net income from maize increased by $318 or 16 percent per farmer. Smallholder consumption of Aflasafe-treated maize increased on average by 20 g per day or 13 percent of their daily consumption. These demonstrate health and income benefits achieved by farmers by using Aflasafe. (Reference: Narayan, Tulika; Denise Mainville; Judy Geyer; Kate Hausdorff; and David Cooley. 2019. AgResults Impact Evaluation Report: Nigeria Aflasafe™ Challenge Project. Rockville, Maryland: Abt Associates).

The partnership with Harvestfield Industries Limited paves the way to ensuring sustainable availability and accessibility of Aflasafe throughout the country. We are committed to ensuring this partnership is a success to contribute to making food safe, and to improve the competitiveness of local produce in the regional and international markets. IITA is working with the licensee and other development partners to create awareness about the negative effects of aflatoxins and the management of aflatoxin contamination using Aflasafe. This includes the development of communication tools and their dissemination though various channels at community, district and national levels. IITA is also supporting the licensee to train various actors, including public extension officers, representatives of farmer’s organizations and farmers, as well as officers in governmental agencies. IITA, in 2017, supported two staff from the National Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to conduct their PhD research. IITA is also helping to increase the reach of the product for benefitting smallholder farmers by initiating and facilitating innovative public-private partnerships in the groundnut value chain.

HIL continues to engage the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) to support the food safety agenda through the accessibility of pre-harvest solutions for farmers and the enforcement of food safety regulations in the public sector procurement. At the end of the reporting period, a cumulative sum of 1121 MT of Aflasafe had been sold in the country.