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Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA)

Dangerous aflatoxins in key staple crops threaten the lives of people and livestock across the African continent. Starting in 2011, a broad range of stakeholders banded together to fight back.

In 2011, African leaders came together to improve food safety in service of greater health and productivity across the continent. They recognized that aflatoxins, a longstanding hazard in various African staple crops, posed a serious threat to human life, animal welfare, and the wider economy. With support and facilitation from Meridian, the African Union Commission (AUC) developed and launched the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA). PACA is an African-led, African-owned initiative that works to minimize the harmful presence of aflatoxins in the foods that millions depend on to survive. 

Aflatoxins, produced by molds in grains and other common crops, cause serious illness and death in people and livestock. They also cost Africans $670 million annually in lost export potential. To combat these issues, the AUC’s members needed to identify effective responses at multiple points within complex agricultural value chains. To do so, they needed a guide who could navigate a variety of viewpoints and needs, building ownership and commitment within a network of geographically dispersed stakeholders. 

Meridian, with our track record of successfully supporting similar efforts, emerged as the AUC’s ideal partner for designing a continent-wide initiative to address the challenges of aflatoxin contamination. Today, the AUC works with a committee of government officials, farmers’ organizations, consumer advocates, researchers, technology organizations, private sector representatives, and public health professionals. As PACA progresses toward its vision, more and more Africans reap the benefits of increased economic potential and critical relief from aflatoxin-related health challenges. PACA’s success also serves as a powerful model for managing other food safety issues across the continent.

A Catalyst for Action

Aflatoxins have caused illness, death, and economic losses in Africa for decades. In the past, research initiatives were limited and lacked an overall framework that could provide direction and support. Key stakeholders across agricultural value chains agreed that they needed a more comprehensive, coordinated approach.

When PACA began its work, aflatoxin mitigation shifted from a constellation of siloed projects to a policy priority at the national and continental levels. Meridian helped PACA create a 10-year strategy and organizational structure to catalyze and coordinate action and information sharing, and their partners began pooling their efforts in order to create concrete tools for on-the-ground projects under the guidance of the larger strategy. The AUC’s involvement as the project’s host institution provided political underpinnings and convening power that helped bring various levels of government on board.

PACA’s effect on the political environment also helped support parallel efforts to fight aflatoxins in the private sectors; the development of Aflasafe, for example, provides farmers with a post-harvest commercial biopesticide that can protect their crops from contamination. In addition, PACA provides a cohesive platform for coordinating and focusing the efforts of philanthropic support. In short, PACA rallies stakeholders, builds confidence in the growing aflatoxin mitigation community, and forms a foundation for lasting, systemic change.

The PACA Country Model for Aflatoxin Mitigation

Efforts to combat aflatoxins in individual countries have historically faced a wide range of challenges, including limited government action, and inadequate access to solutions for farmers, and consumers. PACA developed an approach for aflatoxin mitigation in six pilot countries—Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, The Gambia, and Uganda—as a replicable model that could be executed at the national level.

With buy-in and participation from stakeholders in each country, Meridian helped create PACA’s process and methodologies for aflatoxin situation analysis, strategic planning, and implementation. PACA’s country-focused efforts also created actionable plans and tools for government agencies, companies, researchers, NGOs, farmers, and farmers’ organizations. The pilot projects, in turn, strengthened all of these elements, demonstrating that the model could be scaled in other regions.

PACA’s country model for aflatoxin mitigation also helped improve general food safety oversight at the national level. Nigeria, for example, included aflatoxins in its National Food Safety Bill. The Gambia committed to including an aflatoxin action plan in its National Development Plan. Uganda revised the curriculum for its national education program in veterinary and agricultural studies to include aflatoxins. Multiple pilot countries have pledged substantial funding for aflatoxin-related efforts.

The positive effects have extended beyond the model’s pilot countries, too. Regional enthusiasm and promotion of PACA’s national programming naturally seeded other aflatoxin control programs in 12 new countries. Over the next few years, PACA will continue to catalyze aflatoxin mitigation activities in countries across Africa.

A Methodology for Measurement

A key outcome of PACA’s work is the creation of methodologies for gathering data, measuring outcomes, and monitoring ongoing efforts and their effects on the lives and health of Africans. PACA built relationships with global leaders in aflatoxin research; it also trained cohorts of local experts in sample collection, testing, and data analysis. Meridian coordinated the development of major reports, book chapters, and policy briefs in order to create a more robust body of public data about aflatoxins. We also facilitated the transfer of testing equipment to local labs, supporting PACA’s efforts to measure aflatoxin levels and health impacts through national surveys.

Partner institutions send data to the Africa Aflatoxin Information Management System (AfricaAIMS), which informs policy-making across the continent. The pilot countries’ cooperation has demonstrated their trust in AfricaAIMS, which provides data-sharing services between PACA, each country, and other institutions that work toward aflatoxin mitigation. As Regional Economic Communities advocate for PACA’s country model in their areas, AfricaAIMS will expand to incorporate data from new populations.

More About Aflatoxins

Aflatoxins are dangerous organic compounds, produced by two species of Aspergillus mold. They mainly show up in grains and other crops, including maize, groundnuts, coffee, cassava, and cocoa; once they appear, they create a chain of devastating public health and economic consequences. Within the first link in the food chain, their presence causes farmers to discard their crops and lose access to markets when they can’t meet local and international safety standards. This loss hits small-scale farmers especially hard.

From there, aflatoxins pose an acute threat to humans and animals who consume contaminated grains—in fact, they’re widely recognized as the most pervasive food safety threat in Africa. Millions of Africans are exposed to unsafe levels of aflatoxins through the foods they eat: 40% of the commodities found in local markets contain levels of aflatoxins that exceed safe limits. The harmful effects for humans include illness and death through increased liver disease, cancer, stunted development, and immune system suppression; aflatoxin contamination contributes to 30% of liver cancer cases on the continent. Livestock also suffer after ingesting contaminated feed.