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Pointers from Pakau Njogu, Gambia on Aflasafe SN01, and on fighting aflatoxin in food
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Pointers from Pakau Njogu, Gambia on Aflasafe SN01, and on fighting aflatoxin in food

May 13, 2019

Our continuing series of conversations with the ultimate Aflasafe users – smallholder farmers – took us to Pakau Njogu, in The Gambia’s Northern Region. Again, following on from M’bollet Ba, we learnt yet more new things about our product as farmers continue to teach us. Here is what they said, in their own authentic words. Aflasafe-using farmers also provided pointers on what needs improvement, and points to ponder. Read on, and enter the Aflasafe world of Momodou Aida Bah, Aziz Secka,  Ndey Jeng, Balla Ceesay, Fatou Ndow, Waka Omar Diallo and Sall Bah …

Leading by example, appeal for faster buy-back

“I can only talk of Aflasafe’s advantages. I see no disadvantages” says Alkali (Village Chief) Momodou Aida Bah.

Mr Momodou Aida Bah is the Alkali (Village Head) of Pakau Njogu, a position he has held for six years now. Villagers mainly grow groundnuts, coos (pearl millet), maize and rice. Momodu is also himself an Aflasafe-using farmer since 2014 when Aflasafe was first introduced in the village by the then Gambia Groundnut Corporation (now the National Food Safety, Processing and Marketing Corporation) and IITA.

“When we first encountered Aflasafe, for us it was an experiment and new experience, since we had never heard of it before and it was completely new to us. We were then educated on aflatoxin, and so were happy to use Aflasafe to protect us from this poison we didn’t know about before. However, we came to realise that by applying Aflasafe, it adds value and gives us a healthier crop. We could easily see this by comparing the area on the farm where we’d applied Aflasafe and where we hadn’t. The other sweetener was that we have consistently sold Aflasafe-protected groundnuts at a higher-than-commercial price,” says Momodou. “For all these reasons, I’ve been recommending Aflasafe. We first started with 40 farmers but now more than 500 are using Aflasafe. Farm sizes are generally between two and 10 hectares.” His own personal holding is five hectares, excluding family land. Momodou grows groundnuts, maize and coos, and is from a family of 27.

And on the experience with Aflasafe thus far? “I can only talk of the advantages. I see no disadvantages. I know that Pakau Njogu would have the biggest stack of groundnuts if buy-back by NSFPMC were more prompt.” Patrick Jarju, Head of NFSPMC’s Chemistry and Biological Laboratory, concurs, adding that half the stock that NFSPMC bought in 2018 was from Pakau Njogu alone.

“We have clearly seen Aflasafe’s benefits for ourselves”

With the ITFC-funded subsidy ending in 2020, would Momodou buy Aflasafe at GMD 800 (USD 16) for 10 kilos which would protect one hectare? He responds firmly in the affirmative without hesitation. “Certainly! That price is comparable to fertiliser, which too is a core farm input. We knew from the outset that Aflasafe was eventually going be commercialised. We appreciate this product from NFSPMC and IITA. And whereas we were paid in the early years to use Aflasafe, we have clearly seen its benefits for ourselves. We therefore hope that Pakau Njogu will continue to be included in the programme and distribution even after commercialisation.”

But he decries the slow buy-back by NFSPMC, that sees farmers suffer. “To make ends meet, farmers end up selling groundnuts at throw-away prices due to the huge supply. The way the buyers tie the bags at that time is unacceptable, stuffing them so full that they have to be needle-stitched to hold the ends together! I appeal to NFSPMC to come to our plight.”

Patrick says one way NFSPMC could save the farmers from this loss is by NFSPMC ensuring funds are available for rapid purchase of the Aflasafe-treated nuts well before commencement of the normal groundnut-buying season. This would help to avoid side-selling to other groundnut buyers who don’t screen for aflatoxin when farmers are hard-up for cash, and NFSPMC buy-back is delayed. But there are also farmers who believe that groundnuts progressively lose weight on the scale, and therefore that delayed selling erodes profits.

Aziz Secka has noted that his Aflasafe-treated crops are healthier – “I wish I could have sufficient Aflasafe to cover all my groundnuts.”

Beyond aflatoxin with Aflasafe, while free from fear

Mr Aziz Secka has used Aflasafe on maize and groundnuts since 2014, after he learnt about it and its power to fight aflatoxin from IITA. “I was told of the benefits of using Aflasafe for my family’s health. We now live free of the fear of aflatoxin since we know our groundnuts are safe from it.”

“We retain a portion of the Aflasafe-protected groundnuts for our own consumption at home, and these are the only groundnuts we now eat”

Aziz has unreservedly recommended Aflasafe to satellite villages neighbouring Pakau Njogu. One of the villages, Bakala, has even sent a delegation to him in his capacity as the Pakau Njogu contact farmer, asking to be included in the Aflasafe programme. He grows groundnuts, maize and coos on his seven-hectare farm, and has an extended family of 30.

“With Aflasafe, my groundnut yield has increased,” Aziz reveals. “Insect attacks have also ceased. I know this because I’ve been comparing the patch with Aflasafe with the ones without, and the one without Aflasafe yields less, and also gets attacked by insects. I wish I could have sufficient Aflasafe to cover all my groundnuts.”

“Another difference I’ve noticed between groundnuts growing with Aflasafe and those without is that the Aflasafe-treated ones retain their leaves until harvest-time, meaning they provide more fodder, long after those from the untreated ones have lost their leaves,” he adds. “It seems that Aflasafe protects the leaves from the diseases that attack them. I’d noticed that my family used to get stomachaches from eating groundnuts. But this ceased since 2014, as we retain a portion of the Aflasafe-protected groundnuts for our own consumption at home, and these are the only groundnuts we now eat.”

Peerless and fearless – one woman’s story on her Aflasafe experience

Ndey Jeng’s wish? “I would like each and every woman in my community to use Aflasafe to protect the family and the community from aflatoxin. This, coupled with the better yield make Aflasafe unique and comparable to no other farm input that I know.”

Ms Ndey Jeng’s family has a nine-hectare farm, including patches for the children. She started using Aflasafe in 2014, having learnt of it from a community development programme and by word of mouth from fellow farmers.

“Fear of aflatoxin is now a thing of the past”

“When my crop was growing, I observed that insect infestation and mould were much less in the Aflasafe-treated groundnuts. They also had a better yield, plus the premium price. Even in storage after harvest, the Aflasafe-protected groundnuts continued to have fewer insects and mould. All the groundnuts I saved for home use were from the Aflasafe-protected patch. We had been taught by IITA and NFSPMC about the dangers of aflatoxin, and I wasn’t taking any chances with my family’s health. But for us, fear of aflatoxin is now a thing of the past. I store the Aflasafe-treated groundnuts for current and future family use for peanut butter and other groundnut-based foods.”

Ndey Jeng’s wish? “I would like each and every woman in my community to use Aflasafe to protect the family and the community from aflatoxin. This, coupled with the better yield make Aflasafe unique and comparable to no other farm input that I know.”

For this reason, Ndey Jeng recommends Aflasafe to fellow farmers, showing and telling them of the tangible and intangible benefits of using Aflasafe. And since she’d like to apply Aflasafe to all her groundnuts, she would buy it at the projected retail price of GMB 800 for 10 kilos which would cover one hectare.

She ends with a word of caution: “I’ve observed my own farm as well as the children’s patches. It is very important to do exactly as we’ve been taught in how to apply and use Aflasafe, so as to reap its full benefits.”

Advocating for Aflasafe in the fold in many households: family health first, profits later

“Since day one, I have been teaching others around me. Here, Aflasafe is now a household name!” says community-minded Balla Ceesay. “Everyone should be in this Aflasafe programme!”

Mr Balla Ceesay has been using Aflasafe since 2014. “I continue to use Aflasafe because IITA and NFSPMC explained to us that Aflasafe was good for our health. There was also the benefit of the premium price, but for me, health is my biggest concern. I did not know about aflatoxin before, and first heard of it from IITA and NFSPMC.”

Balla has not kept the good lesson he’s learnt to himself and is community-minded. “Since day one, I have been teaching others around me. Here, Aflasafe is now a household name!”

“Health comes first, and other things later”

He grows groundnuts, maize and coos on a five-hectare family farm, and plans to add cassava this year. “Health comes first, and other things later,” Balla affirms. “The premium price is for me an added advantage and very welcome, but it’s not the only advantage, and is certainly not the most important one. Aflasafe means a better life for my family from better health. That is of paramount importance. We were blind before Aflasafe, as we did not know about aflatoxin being in the food we eat. IITA and NFSPMC helped us to see the light in terms of the dangers of aflatoxin. But they also had the solution, Aflasafe. For me, there’s no turning back now.”

What else would Balla like to see done? “Much more awareness-raising. Everyone should be in this Aflasafe programme! Also, NFSPMC should speed up the buy-back of aflatoxin-safe groundnuts. Many farmers find themselves with no choice and are forced to side-sell to others, due to tardiness by NFSPMC.”

Green solution with evergreen results, passionate call for quid pro quo

“I have seen Aflasafe’s benefits for myself with my own eyes on my own farm” says Fatou Ndow. “I would be the first one in line to buy it … I would want to have sufficient Aflasafe for all my groundnuts”

Ms Fatou Ndow farms groundnuts, maize, coos, beans and rice on a 30-hectare family farm, with 25 adult family members to work the land, alongside hired hands and donkeys.

She heard of Aflasafe from Aziz Secka, the Aflasafe contact farmer for NFSPMC and IITA at Pakau Njogu. “Aziz told me about aflatoxin, and of how Aflasafe works to control aflatoxin. But I had also heard about aflatoxin before on radio, and how it causes liver cancer. And so, I immediately went for my husband as I needed him to also hear this first-hand from Aziz, whom I know cannot bring us anything harmful. Aziz gave us some Aflasafe, and taught us how to use it on our groundnut crop. I visited the Aflasafe-protected patch four days after applying and found the leaves green, thick and robust. At this stage, the leaves are generally yellow. And when squeezed, they emit a red liquid which shows they’ve been attacked by insects. That was the difference with Aflasafe. And the leaves remained green until harvest!”

She adds, “We are advised by agricultural experts to never harvest coos before groundnuts. This is because there are insects we call ‘suckers’ that attack groundnut stems. They particularly mass up on the groundnuts after coos has been harvested, migrating from the coos to the groundnuts. But there were no suckers on the patch with Aflasafe, even after first harvesting coos. And yet before, the insects were so many after harvesting coos that you could hear them buzz even before you saw them!”

Would Fatou buy Aflasafe at the commercial price of GMB 800 per 10 kilos which would protect a hectare? “Most definitely! I would be the first one in line to buy,” she asserts emphatically without any hesitation. “I have seen the benefits for myself with my own eyes on my own farm. I have been a farmer all my life. I know what I am talking about, and I’m speaking from my own personal experience. I also speak of my Aflasafe experience to other women, telling them about the Aflasafe effect on both insects and yield. There is no insect damage, and my yield has improved. I would want to have sufficient Aflasafe for all my groundnuts.”

“I make peanut butter for all in the family, for which I use only the Aflasafe-treated groundnuts to protect us from aflatoxin”

For Fatou, it’s also a matter of family health. “I make peanut butter for all in the family, for which I use only the Aflasafe-treated groundnuts to protect us from aflatoxin. I sent some over to family in Senegal, and they have asked for more. Now, none in our family buy peanut butter from the market any more. We make our own from our aflatoxin-safe groundnuts.”

On NFSPMC’s buyback, Fatou dances to a different drummer from her fellow farmers. “NFSPMC literally brought Aflasafe for free right to our doorstep out of nowhere. I will not sell to any other buyers, and I keep exhorting other farmers not to either. They were there for us. Why can’t we also be there for them? All this noise on delayed buy-back is not really necessary. When I needed money and NFSPMC buy-back was delayed, I sold a sheep instead of side-selling groundnuts.”

But Fatou also singled out an area where NFSPMC needs to improve, and play a larger and more proactive regulatory role in making aflatoxin history in The Gambia. “NFSPMC does not discriminate for aflatoxin and buys all groundnuts, irrespective of aflatoxin. And yet, they’re a government agency. So where does that leave us, where does our health lie and how are we protected from aflatoxin? NFSPMC should filter and only buy back Aflasafe-treated groundnuts. It is for this reason that I always reserve sufficient Aflasafe-protected groundnuts for the family, as I cannot trust the quality of groundnuts in the open market in The Gambia when it comes to aflatoxin safety. NFSPMC should do the same for all the peoples of The Gambia.”

At this juncture, Patrick Jarju, the Head of NFSPMC’s Chemistry and Biological Laboratory, interjects to partially explain NFSPMC’s ‘mixed’ approach on aflatoxin. “Some external markets like China don’t discriminate nor test for aflatoxin, but this is also reflected in the price. Depending on exchange rate and prevailing prices, Chinese markets will pay between USD 600 and 700 per tonne, compared to aflatoxin-conscious markets which command a price tag of between USD 1,00 and 1,200.”

Fatou concludes on a positive note. She’s happy that NFSPMC delivers Aflasafe on time, and also the community approach Pakau Njogu farmers have in applying Aflasafe. They work as a group from one farm to the next, in the same manner they did when they were taught how to apply Aflasafe – a practice that seems to be the norm in The Gambia, and that helps with both ensuring proper, rapid and simultaneous application as well as organic transmission of know-how to all farmers in the village in applying the product, whether or not they attended the training. The knowledge effortlessly passes on from direct trainees to the newcomers they themselves train. All in the course of real-world application and living the adage that many hands make light work, for indeed they do, in more ways than one for Pakau Njogu where there’s no longer a need for formal externally-facilitated training.

“Aflasafe-protected groundnuts give me confidence that my family and I are safe from cancer-causing aflatoxin-laced groundnuts,” says Waka Omar Diallo.

Confidence in conquering cancer-causing aflatoxin, while making a tidy profit

Mr Waka Omar Diallo grows groundnuts, maize and coos on a 12-hectare family farm, of which five are personal. He’s been using Aflasafe since 2014, when he first heard of it from IITA during the Aflasafe-testing trials, then from the media, including a still ongoing radio programme.

“We were told groundnuts can be heavily contaminated by aflatoxin,” says Waka. “But we were also told of the solution that Aflasafe offers. Aflasafe-protected groundnuts give me confidence that my family and I are safe from cancer-causing aflatoxin-laced groundnuts.”

“I have highly recommend Aflasafe and will continue to do so”

At first, Waka was the only Aflasafe user in his immediate area, but he recommended it to the extended family of 18, who now all use it. He’s also recommended it to friends. “Aflasafe gives us more yield, on top of more profit from the NFSPMC premium price for aflatoxin-safe groundnuts. Aflasafe-treated groundnuts are easier to store since insect infestation is greatly reduced and very minimal.”

And that is not all. “When I apply Aflasafe on my groundnuts on the farm, I see clear changes within a short period,” Waka observes. “First, the leaves change colour. They turn completely green and are good-looking and attractive to the eye. Since the leaves are the ‘kitchen’ where the crop’s food is prepared, the yield too improves as a result of these healthy and robust leaves.”

Waka elaborates some more, “I know the experts tell us that Aflasafe does not have any chemical-fertiliser component, but the fact is that Aflasafe does improve yield, and I attest to this as a long-term and consistent Aflasafe user. For all these reasons, I have highly recommend Aflasafe and will continue to do so. Today, Aflasafe is well-known in our village and I feel privileged to teach others about it.”

Though you can’t taste aflatoxin, Sall Bah has noticed a surprising taste improvement: “The peanut butter from Aflasafe-treated groundnuts also tastes a lot better and is not at all sour.”

Everybody wins, livestock included!

Ms Sall Bah heard of Aflasafe from Aziz Secka, the Aflasafe contact farmer in Pakau Njogu, and has been using it on her groundnuts since 2015. She also grows maize, coos, niebe (beans), watermelons and pumpkins on the 11-hectare farm that supports an extended family of 25.

“Here, we eat groundnuts at breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Sall reveals. “I tell others about Aflasafe. My family and friends are all using Aflasafe, and we have noticed a reduction in stomach-aches and other illnesses that were probably coming from high aflatoxin in our daily groundnuts.”

Sall says that the insects that the villagers call ‘suckers’ have also reduced as a result of applying Aflasafe on the groundnut, adding, “The peanut butter from Aflasafe-treated groundnuts also tastes a lot better and is not at all sour. Previously, it would be a bit bitter, but now it has a sweet flavour. The suckers also damaged the plants, but with fewer suckers and therefore less damage, we now also have more fodder for our livestock.”

“I know Aflasafe’s benefits, and the gains outweigh the cost by far … family health is priceless”

Would Sall buy Aflasafe at GMB 800 for 10 kilos to cover one hectare? “Certainly! I know its benefits, and the gains outweigh the cost by far. In the end, there is more profit in Aflasafe than is immediately obvious for the simple reason that family health is priceless. You will regain all that you spend. And the premium price will cover the cost of the Aflasafe, plus all the added benefits.”

What would Sall like to see change? “NFSPMC should buy our groundnuts more promptly,” she exhorts. “I also appeal to them not to mix Aflasafe-treated groundnuts with untreated ones. But whatever the case, Aflasafe supply must continue even after current subsidy programme ends. And so, I welcome its commercialisation as it means we can each buy as much Aflasafe as we each need, or can afford.”

 

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