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PMIL master's student researches link between oil processing and aflatoxin contamination

By Alex Merritt

University of Georgia, Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab

Clara Kasakula wants to know how to get the highest quality peanut oil into the kitchens of cooks throughout Malawi.

Peanut oil, a popular ingredient found in food around the world, is extracted from peanuts using a variety of methods, including using a press, water, or a chemical compound called hexane. Processors, especially small-scale local processors, often extract oil from peanuts contaminated with aflatoxin, the byproduct of naturally occurring mold.

Kasakula based her master’s thesis research on whether the actual extraction method used is important at keeping aflatoxin out of the oil.

 “The findings of the study will help advise small-to-medium scale oil processors who produce groundnut oil,” said Kasakula, a 23-year-old student at the Lilongwe University for Agricultural and Natural Resources.

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Master's student trains peanut flour processors in pursuit of food safety

By Alex Merritt

University of Georgia, Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab

Chikondi Magombo is working to improve a nutritious, but affordable traditional product in Malawi – peanut flour – by giving processors some basic training to help them turn out higher quality and safer product.

Peanut flour, or groundnut flour as it is known in Malawi, is protein dense, but relatively inexpensive, making it a popular additive in breads, sauces, and soups.

Magombo’s research looks at the processing methods used during the production of peanut flour to find ways they might improve. Peanut flour processors who use that information can improve the quality and safety of their product for the consumer and, at the same time, see their own income increase.

“The quality and safety of food is overlooked in developing countries. Food that is supposed to build our bodies up is destroying us, either due to naturally occurring toxins or introduced microorganisms due to lack of hygiene,” said Magombo, a 24-year-old master’s student at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Malawi.

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Recognized for their organization, Ghanaian farmers share lessons for better crop

By Allison Floyd

University of Georgia, Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab

A few years ago, peanut farmers in the Dagomba village in the Ashanti region of Ghana had little training in how to grow, dry and store their crop in a way that would increase yield and improve quality.

They planted the same variety that has grown in the region for decades and hoped that rains would fall at the right time to make a good crop. They harvested whenever they could and spread the nuts out on the ground to dry in the sun.

But when offered the chance to learn improved techniques, they took advantage and have results to show for it. 

Now, a dozen of the smallholder farmers in the area have earned recognition from their national government for their contribution to food security in Ghana, an award taking into account the farmers’ adoption of best practices taught through farmer field days organized and funded by the Feed the Future Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab (PMIL).

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Value chain connects profitability with aflatoxin prevention practice

By Allison Floyd

University of Georgia, Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab

Research on the value chain in Ghana has shown the interrelated approaches that are necessary to reduce aflatoxin in peanuts and provided understanding that can foster development of seed-to-table interventions to improve the quality and quantity of the crop.

Research shows aflatoxin prevention interventions are most effective at the post-harvest stage, however farmers need the increased yield from improved varieties and growing techniques, and possibly a price premium for quality peanuts to be able to afford those interventions.

While planting date, rainfall and temperature during the growing season certainly impact the growth of A. flavus and development of aflatoxin, the way that the crop is dried and stored seems to have a much greater impact on contamination levels.

Also, incentives at the buying point for low-aflatoxin peanuts must be carefully tailored to account for the cultural and economic practice of storing peanuts as a type of savings and selling off in small lots when cash is needed.

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University of Zambia students researching new peanut butters

By Allison Floyd

University of Georgia, Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab

Would peanut butter made with different varieties of nuts taste as good? Students in University of Zambia’s Department of Food Science and Nutrition are going to find out.

 “Currently, only one local variety is commonly used for peanut butter in Zambia. So we want to try out three to four local varieties and conduct sensory/consumer evaluations to determine how consumers perceive them,” said Nyambe Mkandawire, a lecturer in UNZA’s food science and nutrition program. At the same time, researchers will conduct physicochemical tests, shelf life studies and other studies on the alternative peanut butters.

The Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab, which collaborates with UNZA and sponsors students in the food science and agronomy soil science programs, recently helped acquire peanut roasting and grinding equipment for the research.

Some of the student researchers are pursuing bachelor’s degrees in food science and nutrition (which does not offer graduate degrees at UNZA), while others are masters of science students in human nutrition, agricultural engineering, chemistry, biological sciences and related programs.

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