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PARTNERSHIPS FOR ENHANCED ENGAGEMENT IN RESEARCH (PEER)
Cycle 8 (2019 Deadline)


Production of commercial bioplastic-based biopesticide to control aflatoxin contamination in crops

PI: Amadou Hamadoun Babana (ahbabana@laborem-biotech.com, amadou.babana@usttb.edu.ml), University of Sciences, Techniques, and Technologies
of Bamako (USTTB)
U.S. Partner: Hamed K. Abbas, United States Department of Agriculture/ Agricultural Research Service
Project Dates: August 2020 - November 2021

Project Overview:

8-102 Lab Team
The PEER team outside the lab (photo courtesy of Dr. Babana).
Peanut and maize are important crops in West Africa, mainly due to their contribution to poverty reduction and food security. Unfortunately, however, aflatoxin contamination constitutes a major constraint on crop utilization and trade in the crops in Africa. Aflatoxins are potently toxic secondary metabolites produced mainly by Aspergillus flavus. Because of the compound’s high toxicity, the European Union has banned the import of peanuts with an aflatoxin content above 4 μg/kg, restricting African peanuts to limited circulation in international trade. Beyond the economic significance, there are important health concerns as well. An estimated 500 million of the poorest people in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Asia are exposed to mycotoxins at levels that substantially increase mortality and morbidity. Aflatoxin contamination of crops is now considered a worldwide food safety concern. For the past five years, scientists from USTTB have shown that a locally isolated Bacillus sphaericus OP6 inhibits fungal growth and aflatoxin production by more than 90% under laboratory conditions. But, this strain was less effective on peanut under field conditions. Bacteria spread well through wet/liquid environments because they use flagella to spread, whereas fungi grow through even dry soil. Wet soil is not good for peanuts, so a biopesticide containing biocontrol fungi only or associated with biocontrol bacteria is needed in the Sahelian region. Granules of bioplastic (cornstarch-based material) have been investigated as an alternative nutritive carrier for biocontrol microbes and compounds. Bioplastic-based biopesticides give effective reduction of more than 90% of aflatoxin contamination. The bioplastic formulations have proven to be economically cost-effective, easily applicable to modern farming equipment, and shelf stable for long-term storage. To date, bioplastic formulation technology has not been scaled up for use by farmers in Africa. The primary goal of this study is to increase food security in Mali, with the main objective being to improve peanut productivity, quality, and competitiveness through the production of commercial bioplastic-based biopesticide. This project builds on the research experiences of the PI Dr. Babana and his project team on mycotoxigenic fungi, aflatoxin-producing fungi, aflatoxin controlling bacteria, and bioplastic-based biopesticide formulation using biocontrol microbes. The main result expected for this project is the production of a commercial bioplastic biopesticide to control aflatoxin contamination of crops in Africa.

By producing commercial bioplastic-based biopesticides in Mali and using local aflatoxin-controlling microbes and materials, the PI estimates that the nation could save as much as $3.4 million per year in scarce foreign exchange that could then be used for other government development priorities such as health and education. By combining aflatoxin-controlling biopesticide and bioplastic to produce an efficient bioplastic biopesticide, the project should also provide a much-needed boost to the peanut production sector, which has been an ailing segment of the economy of Mali. By improving peanut yield and quality while diminishing pesticide expenses, this project will also contribute to alleviating smallholder poverty in Africa. In many of peanut growing systems in Africa, mainly in Mali, women are the primary growers of peanuts, producing the crop to assure food security at the household level and improve incomes for themselves and their families. The project will include women in the bioplastic biopesticide production and commercialization processes and ensure that they have access to training and knowledge for implementing the technology and thus raising their incomes. Techniques and technologies developed in this project with peanut farmers will be readily transferable to other crops such as cereals. Relationships developed with farmers as part of this project will also build trust and enhance farmer amenability to the adoption of other sustainable agriculture practices to increase organic food production.

Summary of Recent Activities

In the first quarter of 2021, the project team began to achieve its objective of increasing the production of peanuts and corn without aflatoxin by 30%. The team started project activities by meeting with their American collaborators to refine the objectives and activities to be undertaken in during the current situation, and then holding the project inception meeting during which the project, its main objectives and activities were presented to all stakeholder parties, as well as to the technical and political managers of Mali. Additionally, a field mission was carried out to meet the farmers, discuss the project with them and request their unconstrained commitments to actively participate in the execution of the project that they themselves had requested. Following this meeting, the project team was able to train roughly two hundred farmers on the best agricultural technique practices to produce aflatoxin-free crops, mainly peanuts.

The Malian Association of Users of Research Results, through its president, contacted the team to obtain their biopesticide, which was in great demand among peanut producers in whom the first phase of the project had been carried out. After two working sessions, the team decided to facilitate product accessibility to all producers in the major peanut and maize production areas in Mali. After that, another session was held with a biopesticide production company collaborating with the association and interested in the project. A more formal meeting has been set for mid-May.

In addition to these three activities, the team purchased equipment and chemicals that enabled them to successfully start production of potato bioplastics and the production of strains of bacteria and non-toxicogenic fungi, which will be used in the final formulation.


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