Device developed to help detect aflatoxin at a very early stage

Dr. Anitha Seetha, ICRISAT Scientist shows how the aflatoxin test kit works.Picture:Ken Ndambu
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Farmers can now sigh with relief following the introduction of a new technology to address the aflatoxin menace.

The technology is said to be able to detect aflatoxin on location, save lives and open export markets for African and Asian countries.

Aflatoxin cases have been reported in arid and semi-arid areas where relief food is restricted such as Eastern and North Eastern regions of the country.

Crops researchers say that the rapid test kit which is at an affordable price that is below KSh200 has been developed and will be in use in the next few months.

“It will cost about KSh200 (US$2) and comes with a mobile extraction kit,” said the official.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) which developed the device noted that this will be the first portable cost-effective way for farmers to detect aflatoxin on the spot.

The kit was developed with funding from 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 in Malawi.

“It is a simple non-laboratory based kit that 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,” said Dr Wilkson Makumba, Director Department of

Makumba noted that the technology requires limited technical knowledge or training and can be done on location adding that the kit can be used by traders to check for contamination before concluding a sale while the rapid detection is useful for public health authorities to help identify suspected samples in cases of an aflatoxin poisoning outbreak.

The new test is simple to perform and can detect

contamination at levels of 10 parts per billion (ppb) in less than 15 minutes compared to the competitive Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (cELISA) test, developed in 2000 by ICRISAT which has to be done in a laboratory by trained technicians and other analytical tests taking up to two days.

“The compact portable device is based on the lateral flow immunoassay test (popularly known as the strip test like that used to detect glucose in human blood). If aflatoxin is present in the sample, then one pink line appears on the strip, whereas if the sample doesn’t have any aflatoxin, two pink lines will appear,” explained Makumba.

He added: “The device will contribute to the management and reduce the entry of

aflatoxin in the food value chain, 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 Dr Anitha Seetha, a scientist at ICRISAT.

Aflatoxin is carcinogenic. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that 25 percent of all crops in the world are affected by aflatoxin citing 2010 when around 20,000 people died globally

from aflatoxin poisoning and an equal number fell ill.

Most affected ate groundnut, maize, sorghum, pearl millet, chilies, pistachios, cassava and other food products that get contaminated by aflatoxin each


Also affected are lives and health of humans and of livestock in addition to the marketability of such food products.

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