The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) announced it has developed the first portable low-cost device for rapid detection of aflatoxins, or poisonous chemicals produced by certain kinds of mould in soil that affect crops.
The new technology can detect aflatoxins on location, save lives and open export markets for African and Asian countries, an ICRISAT statement said. The rapid test kit device is affordable at under $2, and will, combined with a mobile extraction kit that will be readyAin two months, be the first portable cost-effective way for farmers and others to detect aflatoxins instantly, it added.
The research institute developed the device with funding from the McKnight Foundation and in collaboration with partners including the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi-NASFAM, Farmers Union Malawi (FUM), Kamuzu Central Hospital and Nkhoma Hospital, Malawi. The simple non-laboratory based kit can be used directly by non-technical people such as farmers, agro-dealers and food processors. Currently, the test can be applied to detect aflatoxin in groundnuts.
The test kit can be used by traders to check for contamination before concluding a sale. The rapid detection is useful for public health authorities to help identify suspected samples in cases of an outbreak of aflatoxin poisoning, said the statement, adding that it can detect contamination at levels of 10 parts per billion (ppb) in less than 15 minutes.
“The device will contribute to manage and reduce the entry of aflatoxins in the food value chains, improve diagnosis for local and export trade and support the food processing industry to maintain low exposure levels in food products in our local markets as well as for export markets,” said Anitha Seetha, scientist, ICRISAT, Malawi.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 25 percent of all crops in the world are affected by aflatoxins. The WHO recently estimated that in 2010 around 20,000 people died globally from aflatoxin poisoning and an equal number fell ill.
Groundnut, maize, sorghum, pearl millet, chilies, pistachios, cassava and other food products are contaminated by aflatoxin each year. They not only affect human and livestock health but can also affect the marketability of food products. Many countries reject imports of agricultural products that exceed certain levels of aflatoxin, costing farmers millions of dollars every year.