Sustaining food supplies and improving health in Kenya
Duration: August 01, 2016 – May 02, 2020
Contamination with fungal toxins is a prominent food safety concern in tropical regions. Aflatoxin, a fungal toxin common in maize and groundnut, affects much of African produce. Besides exacting a significant health toll, it impedes farmers’ access to global food markets and high-value domestic markets. This project will develop and test business models to support the scale-up of a biocontrol product to combat aflatoxin among smallholder maize farmers in Kenya.
Aim: This project “Sustaining food supplies and improving health: Integration of small farmers into modern value chains with food safety standards in Kenya” will compare business models for sustainably managing food safety risk through adoption of an aflatoxin bio-control agent, Aflasafe, and rapid testing for aflatoxin contamination.
Objectives: Developing this value chain for aflatoxin safe food would achieve three objectives:
- Smallholder maize farmers would be integrated into modern value chains that increasingly demand safe food as a prerequisite of market participation.
- The livelihoods of these farmers would be made more resilient in the context of climate changes that favour aflatoxin contamination of their primary crop.
- The safety of the food supply for vulnerable urban populations would be improved.
Method: The project will use a randomized controlled trial (RCT) approach in which farmers are linked to high value output markets demanding aflatoxin-safe maize. The project would specifically target maize farmers in Meru County, Kenya who belong to farmer groups. Meru is a global hotspot for aflatoxin contamination and a significant reliable maize production area. Kenya is one of only two African countries in which an aflatoxin biocontrol product has been licensed for general use. Primary outcomes to be assessed are adoption of Aflasafe and test kits by farmers, prices received by farmers for their maize, and the safety of maize consumed by participating farmers and sold to millers.
Dutch policy goal: Sustainable food systems.
Year 1: The research team ran a pilot study with 14 farmer groups in Meru and Tharaka Nithi between September 2016 and March 2017. Based on our experiences during the pilot we made the following changes to our evaluation design.
- During the pilot study there were some cases of information spillovers across farmer groups. This affected farmers’ willingness to pay for Aflasafe, once they learned that other groups were offered a discount. We decided to cover a larger geographic area in the full study (which runs from September 2017 until March 2018), including Meru, Tharaka Nithi, and Embu counties.
- During the pilot season farmers were not able to aggregate sufficient maize for attracting a formal market premium. This was a result of poor harvest due to drought. We decided to add an insurance component to the study, offering farmers the option to purchase a rain index insurance to cover the cost of Aflasafe purchase.
In addition to these changes, after consultation with stakeholders, it was decided to drop the aflatoxin testing component of the intervention. This decision was taken for two reasons: 1) Efforts to develop low-cost aflatoxin testing have so far been unsuccessful. Even at a lower price per test, current approaches to testing require a skilled technician to implement; 2) A test and sort approach, unless carefully regulated, would likely concentrate aflatoxin exposure among the poorest, who cannot afford premium, safe maize. Given the regulatory environment in Kenya, this approach was not considered a promising one.
Summary mid-term review: Unsafe food is a major and under-recognized cause of ill health and deaths globally. This study aims to shed light on how market forces can be leveraged to improve the safety of food in contexts where the enforcement of food safety regulations is weak. The research is based in Kenya, where maize, the staple grain, is often contaminated with a cancer-causing toxin, aflatoxin. The researchers conducted an experimental study involving 160 pre-existing groups of maize farmers in a region of Kenya where maize is commonly contaminated with this toxin. The primary aim of the study was to evaluate how market incentives for safer maize affect farmers’ purchase and use of a new technology – Aflasafe – to control the toxin. Findings show that 18% of the farmers in targeted groups purchased the product, and that the volume purchased increased by close to 50% when a price premium was offered for maize that met the associated food safety standard. Results also indicate that a lack of demand among bulk maize buyers is a constraint to the development of markets that support food safety. Future work through the project will address this challenge.