Peanut farmers back in business
New Internationalist May 2011
4-6 May


The rich and powerful gather in South Africa this month to consider ways to 'craft innovative partnerships between business and civil society'. Yet there is little mention of agriculture on their agenda, despite over 60 percent of Africans working in
the farming sector.

Sub-Saharan African farmers
have traditionally exported many different crops, from groundnuts (or Peanuts) to cocoa. However, increasingly stringent food safety standards have pushed many smallholder farmers out of the market because quality testing is too expensive for them.


Several years ago, fear grew that new standards in western countries for acceptable levels of aflatoxins in groundnuts could cost African countries $670 million in lost exports. Aflatoxins are naturally occurring and potentially deadly poison which infests crops such as groundnuts, sorghum, cassava and maize.

More than five billion people in the Majority World are exposed to aflatoxin by unknowingly consuming contaminated foods. So reducing aflatoxin contamination of African crops could also offer considerable health benefits, particularly to African children.

In developed countries, farmers use detection technologies to manage outbreaks. But in poorer countries, the tests have been expensive and too difficult for most farmers to implement.

Mchinji Smallholders Farmers' Association (MASFA) in central Malawi was just one group of farmers shut out of the groundnut exports trade due to EU trade regulations on aflatoxins. However, a new detection kit, developed by the International Agriculture research Center
for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), has revitalized their business.

By cutting the cost of testing crops from $25 to $1 per sample, the kit has started to re-open the doors to export. This simple kit can even be used by the most remote rural farms
to monitor grains and nuts and improve storage techniques to avoid contamination.

Over 4,000 MASFA farmers have again begun to export high-quality groundnuts to Europe under a fair trade agreement. Moses Siambi, an ICRISAT scientist based in Lilongwe, is delighted: 'we've seen a very positive impact. Malawian groundnuts are now available on
the biggest supermarkets in Britain.'

'We are now transferring the Malawi experience to many other African countries,' says Dr Farid Waliyar, ICRISAT West and Central African Director. 'We have also developed solutions to minimize aflatoxin contamination pre-and post-harvest, but we need financial support to scale up these technologies.'

The National Small Farmers Association of Malawi has successfully used the new aflatoxin detection kit as part of a broader effort to re-establish its European export market. many small farmer co-operatives across the continent could soon be following suit.


by ICRISAT. All rights reserved.