Aflatoxin in peanuts remains an unsolved problem for people with a small food budget, and a private sector partner is providing solutions
Contamination of peanuts and peanut products by aflatoxins pose serious health challenges for all populations. Consumed in high amounts over a long period, aflatoxin contributes to cancer, stunted growth and various cognitive diseases due to immune compromises. But the prevalence of peanuts unfit for human consumption is exceptionally high among low-income consumers in developing countries. In Kenya’s cities and towns, many peanut consumers live in high-density areas who cannot afford to pay for better quality products. Hence, they buy the lowest grades of peanuts, often rejected by food processors, supermarkets, and restaurants. With the help of the CRP-GLDC Innovation Fund, Athanas Matheka, owner and Managing Director of the Greenforest Foods Ltd set out to change this.
Athanas’s goal is to offer healthy, aflatoxin-tested peanuts to all Kenyans. Low-income consumers in the Nairobi are of particular concern to him. He collaborated with ICRISAT through the CRP-GLDC Innovation Fund to develop safe value chains connecting Kenyan peanut producers with urban consumers. This Fund co-financed his aflatoxin test kit, the recruitment and training of a quality assurance lead, a laboratory, and a private labelling design. After the Aflatoxin testing protocols were in place, Athanas and this team have set out to contract 2,000 smallholder farmers in Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet Counties of Kenya to produce peanuts for the urban market. So far, 1.200 have been contracted the others will follow in early 2022. The entire value chain from production to consumption is now managed to keep the fflatoxin levels below the East African threshold of 10 ppb (parts per billion) with the aspiration to lower it to below 4 ppb in 2 years, in readiness for future markets in Europe.
Greenforest Foods Ltd, a medium-sized enterprise trades honey and peanuts in Nairobi’s suburbs, besides other products including Cashew nuts and food-grade beeswax exported to Japan. Currently, the company is commissioning a 500 kg per hour peanut butter line that will also produce functional foods for malnourished children and lactating mothers in hunger-stricken zones. Trained as a food technologist, Athanas has bought, processed, and sold peanuts and peanut products from Eastern and Southern Africa for decades. Athanas’s clients comprise large restaurants, coffee houses and supermarkets. However, in Kenya, the Kenyan supply of peanuts does not meet the demand due to a limited supply of aflatoxin-free peanuts and the lack of management of mycotoxins starting right from production at the farmer’s fields and proper storage in the value chain.
While research can mitigate the risk of aflatoxins in peanuts, we know little about increasing the demand for affordable, aflatoxin-tested peanuts by income-poor consumers. Athanus is, therefore working with civil society and local dealers on marketing strategies besides exploring smart technologies and subsidies to keep peanuts affordable. ICRISAT supports this effort through market research, and testing the efficacy of methods to increase awareness about healthy peanuts among consumers. Athanas now works with four vendors to organise peanut distribution in informal settlements. An open question remains is the pricing: package sizes are below 100 grams and must remain affordable to people in informal settlements.
Although the CRP-GLDC Innovation Fund supported its investment to one value chain, we created a model for aflatoxin-tested peanuts serving low-income consumers. This investment has not only put the management of aflatoxins on a solid, scientific basis, but also helps open future markets in Europe and incentivises farmers to invest in peanut production. Athanas is convinced that “healthy peanuts are no privilege for a few”. Everyone has the right to health through safe peanuts and its products. Hence, the Green Forests Foods Ltd serves consumers in Nairobi with the same quality that exported to Europe; an exciting prospect indeed!
Authors: Michael Hauser and Immaculate Edel, ICRISAT Nairobi
Acknowledgment: This work was undertaken as part of, and funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC) and supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.