Groundnut (Arachis hypogaea) is an indispensable and income-generating crop particularly for women who traditionally manage the crop in Zambia. It is produced by more than 90 percent of the smallholder farmers and the second typically cultivated crop after maize.
Conversely, over the years there has been a drop in groundnut yields for instance, in 2012 the production declined by approximately 60% (from 278,775 metric tonnes to 113,026 metric tonnes). This is attributed to a number of dynamics such as diseases and pest attacks, availability of markets, markets and prices of competing crops, degradation of soil fertility and droughts. Additionally, groundnut is one of the most susceptible crop to Aspergillus group of fungi infection and subsequent aflatoxin contamination either in the field (pre-harvest) or during storage (post-harvest). Apparently, the main entry for fungal invasion is direct contact of developing groundnut pods with fungal mycelium in the soil. Another suggested route of entry is through the flowers. Aspergillus species can survive through harsh weather conditions in the soil by means of conidia and sclerotia production.
Consumption of aflatoxin contaminated groundnuts is known to have side effects on humans as well as animals. Some of the detrimental effects include impaired immune system, stunted growth and cognitive developmental challenges in children, liver cancer in adults and death in severe cases. For instance, a case in Kenya where more than 100 persons died. In addition, the contaminated crop generally affects the livelihood of the small holder farmers because of declined income generation as a result of crop rejection, reduced crop market worth or inability to gain access to the higher-value global trade markets.
Bearing in mind that food safety is a fundamental public health concern, mitigating aflatoxin contamination using resistant groundnut genotype as one of the cost-effective and sustainable tactic cannot be over stressed. Genetic resistance can therefore be used as one of the integrated management approaches apart from soil water management, soil amendments, bio-control, soil pest control, proper drying and curing and storage in solving the problem of aflatoxin contamination in Zambia.
The steps I intend to take to develop my idea in sustainable crop protection are as follows; Firstly, I intend to secure groundnut 15 landraces from the National Plant Genetic Resource Centre (NPGR) and multiply the seed on-station. The same will be done for the hybrid seed which will be collected from different seed companies and agricultural research stations in Zambia. Secondly, the harvested seed will then be subjected to three diverse agro-ecological zones of Zambia by planting both on-farm and on-station (multi-locational) and screened for genetic resistance to seed infection and aflatoxin production. The promising resistant lines will further be assessed before finally incorporating them in the national breeding program.
The key stakeholders and beneficiaries in this innovation are the commercial and small scale farmers in particular who mainly grow the crop as a source of income. The actors in the value chain of groundnuts such as the peanut butter producing companies. This will be a plus if the end product is aflatoxin-free. Other beneficiaries are the consumers because they have a basic right to food safety. The plant breeders also are key stakeholders in this idea because they will bring on board the necessary breeding skills and knowledge to make this innovation a successful research. Various agricultural research institutions engaged in research and development and non-governmental organization that promote food safety and security would be potential stakeholders.
The proposed outcome of this innovation is that we will have bred and released groundnut genotype(s) on the market that will provide resistance and reduce aflatoxin contamination levels. Consequently, this will not only promote international trade with the European markets who have stringent measures when it comes to aflatoxin contamination but increase income for the farmers thus improving their livelihoods.
One of the social positive impacts the innovation will create is the reduction of health related risks such as liver cancer and mentally impaired children. It will promote healthier communities as a result of consuming safe food. This idea will immensely also give a wider insight with regard to genetic resistance in groundnuts to contamination. The farmers will be encouraged to supply their produce to the available markets at an attractive price thus increasing their income base and ultimately reduce the poverty levels. They will afford to take their children to school and meet other socio-economic responsibilities. Overall, people will consume groundnuts without uncertainties for fear of aflatoxicosis especially in the rural setup which is one of the main source of proteins.
My motivation in carrying out this innovation is based on the fact that groundnuts plays an important role in the livelihoods of many smallholder farmers in the country. Not only as an income generating activity but also as the source of proteins. My enthusiasm is to advance the agenda of food safety and promote a country that will be food secure rather food insecure. Being a cash crop, it also earns the country foreign exchange that helps to stabilize the economy.
Taking part in the Next Generation Agri-Summit will be a life changing experience. Networking with other young innovators and linking with seasoned researchers and practitioners will be a major milestone of my career in science. My aim would be to accomplish the task at hand and contribute to the pool of knowledge with regard to aflatoxin ‘the silent killer’.
Owen Machuku, Zambia