2.3 million bags of maize are contaminated with aflatoxins this year in Kenya, according to afrol News. Aflatoxins are produced by the Aspergillus species of fungus, most notably Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, and are highly carcinogenic and damaging to the liver. This natural outbreak in Kenya has made a large portion of “maize unfit for human and livestock consumption and trade, to the dismay of the millions of small-scale farmers that depend on the crop for food and income.” Government officials in Kenya are offering to buy the contaminated maize in effort to keep it off the market. Aflatoxin contamination cannot be seen without the aid of UV light, leading some farmers to doubt that their crops are contaminated. With the aid of a black light, one can see the presence of the B1 and B2 aflatoxins, which fluoresce blue, and the G1 and G2 aflatoxins, which fluoresce green.
Aspergillus fungi are found throughout the world and can infect a variety of crops, leading to aflatoxin contamination of both human and animal feed. Aflatoxins have also been investigated for bioweapons use because of the devastating economic effects observed from natural outbreaks. In the 1990s, the Iraqi government produced at least 2,000 liters of an aflatoxin anti-crop biological weapon. It was loaded into bombs and field tested, but not used.
Plant pathologists from Africa and the United States are advocating spraying atoxigenic (non-toxin producing) strains of Aspergillus on crops in Kenya to help limit the growth of toxic strains. Past use of these strains in the US and Africa have been effective in reducing aflatoxin contamination. In 2009, the use of atoxigenic strains on crops in Nigeria reduced contamination by 80%. These efforts to control Aspergillus, along with methods to protect other staple crops including cassava, will likely increase food security in Africa in the years to come.