“I think it’s a very important study,” said Erin Bowers, mycotoxin sampling and analysis specialist and post doctorate research associate at Iowa State University. “A lot of these developing countries have a staple food. In Rwanda they eat corn every day. So when there is a problem with their corn supply, they don’t have anything to fall back on.”
According to the IGQI, two specific classes of mycotoxins — aflatoxins and fumonisins — are believed to play a significant role in affecting Rwanda’s grain quality. The IGQI said low levels of aflatoxins and fumonisins may cause serious health problems from either direct consumption of contaminated grain or secondary consumption through animal-sourced products. In Africa, mycotoxins are believed to cause chronic childhood stunting, immunosuppression and reproductive health issues, the IGQI said.
As part of the project, more than 2,500 samples of grain feed will be collected in two phases — phase one starting in the coming weeks and phase two starting mid-June. Researchers at the University of Rwanda in Kigali will analyze the level of mycotoxins in the animal feed ingredients.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), mycotoxins contaminate a quarter of the world’s agriculture products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established maximum tolerance levels in the United States, but developing countries like Rwanda do not have the infrastructure or standards to guarantee any degree of mycotoxin-safe products.
Dirk Maier, grain handling and storage specialist and principal investigator on the project, said he is proud of the impact IGQI is able to have on the world.
“Our label is ‘Iowa Grain Quality Initiative’ but it’s not just for Iowa,” Maier said. “We have the largest concentration of grain quality expertise in any university at this point in time. What we’re doing here can literally serve states in the region, and countries beyond.”