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Ugandan student researches best drying technique for quality peanuts

By Alex Merritt

University of Georgia, Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab

John Yawe took a big step moving from his home country of Uganda to pursue a master’s degree in Zambia. With more than 2000 kilometers separating the two countries’ capitals, the differences in culture and language would have deterred many people.

But for Yawe, who graduated late last year from the University of Zambia with a MSc. in Agricultural Engineering, a master’s degree meant more than expanding his horizons or getting a better job. It meant that he could advocate for smallholder farmers, who produce 80% of the food grown in Uganda.

“Getting my master’s would put me in position to advocate and participate in developing a comprehensive food production policy in Uganda,” said Yawe. “The Agricultural Engineering master’s program would enhance my knowledge in research of post-harvest handling and processing at the same time broaden my capacity to develop easily adaptable, accessible, affordable technologies for Ugandan farmers.”

Read more about Yawe's research into drying techniques.

Malawian PhD student working on peanut beverage at UGA

By Allison Floyd

University of Georgia, Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab

People around the world eat peanuts in all sorts of ways – as a roasted snack, as a powder sprinkled onto cereal, as a sauce blended into stew. But would consumers gulp down a peanut beverage? Aggrey Gama thinks so.

Gama, a PhD candidate studying at the University of Georgia’s Griffin campus through the Legume Scholars program, is crafting a drink that would deliver the nutrition and tastiness of peanuts to consumers in his home country of Malawi.

He recently returned to the U.S. from Malawi, where he visited with family (he and his wife have two children) and conducted surveys of potential consumers.

“What are the factors that Malawians are considering when they are making food choices? That is what we wanted to know,” said Gama.

Learn about Gama's work to create a peanut-based beverage.

Finding the needle in the haystack: Refining the way we look for aflatoxin

By Allison Floyd

University of Georgia, Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab

How do you find a needle in a haystack? Well, it isn’t impossible, at least not statistically.

Researchers have faced a similar problem for years when trying to test for mycotoxin contamination in food lots. Produced by Aspergillus molds, aflatoxin (a type of mycotoxin) can infect a single kernel of corn or peanut, making that one “hot” kernel important to capture in any sampling process.

You don’t want to miss the contaminated kernel, but also don’t want to capture a disproportionate number of infected kernels and unnecessarily reject a lot either. Tom Whitaker has studied this problem for decades and established sampling protocols to achieve the most accurate test result from large lots that balances the risks to both consumers and producers who may have product unnecessarily rejected.

“That kernel not only is a needle in the haystack, but it also might have a wide range in the amount of aflatoxin … from just a low level on up to 1 million parts per billion,” said Whitaker, a retired agricultural engineer. “It’s a problem within a problem.

Check out the PMIL graphic and more about proper sampling for aflatoxin.

Darko hopes her Ph.D. will inspire other Ghanaian women 

By Alex Merritt

University of Georgia, Peanut & Mycotoxin Lab

When Clara Darko decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Agricultural Engineering, she knew she’d have to face down other people’s expectations. Though already accomplished as the agricultural engineer for Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture in the Ashanti Region, this mother of two knew she would find a lot of people along the way who didn’t think she belonged.

“African society frowns on ladies in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs for no apparent reason,” Darko said. “I have had many instances where people come around and ask me why I’m in this profession. They tell me that it doesn’t suit me. They think I should be a teller in a bank, or a receptionist, or something else.”

Few women in Ghana pursue degrees in STEM fields. According to the African Research Academies for Women, less than 20 percent of STEM researchers in Ghana are women. Darko believes that statistic will change if women are encouraged to believe in their own intelligence and mentored as they pursue STEM degrees.

Read more about Darko's research and desire to see more women in science fields.


Jordan helping peanut farmers from North Carolina to Ghana

By Allison Floyd

University of Georgia, Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab

If North Carolina State University had been looking for a cotton specialist, David Jordan’s career might have turned out very differently. In the late 1990s, the Edenton, N.C.-native was looking for a job that would bring him back home from Louisiana State University, where he was researching rice and soybean production.

“I grew up on a farm that had peanuts, but I didn’t really plan to make my career about peanuts,” Jordan said. “The reason I am here is that a position came open at NC State and I was interested in coming back home. If it had been cotton or wheat, I would have been interested in that job and things would have been a lot different.”

Jordan, North Carolina’s state peanut specialist, directs peanut production programs across the state, helping farmers fight pests and implement sustainable production practices, while coaxing the highest yield out of the ground.

But Jordan also leads the Ghana Value Chain Interventions project for the Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab, a multi-faceted undertaking that weaves together research and innovations from the farm to the processor to the market to increase food security and farm incomes in Ghana.

Read more about David Jordan's work with PMIL and the Ghana Value Chain project.


PMIL partner, MFK, helps Haitian farmers replant after Hurricane Matthew

By Allison Floyd

University of Georgia, Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab

No time is a good time to have three feet of rain fall on your crop. When Hurricane Matthew slammed into Haiti in October, the Category 4 storm wiped out nearly all crops and half of livestock in the southern Grand-Anse region.

To help those farmers replant this season, Meds & Food for Kids (MFK) recently donated 3.6 tons of peanut seed to be distributed by the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA), a Haitian nonprofit foundation working with farmers in the wake of the devastating storm. The seed will help more than 200 farmers get a crop started this spring after losing everything last fall.

MFK, which manufactures peanut-based therapeutic food, has its factory in the northern part of the country, a region that was spared the worst damage. The organization tries to source its peanut supply from local farms as much as possible, which has led MFK to work with farmers to increase yield and reduce losses from pests, disease or contamination.

Read more about MFK's donation to help Haitian farmers replant after Hurricane Matthew.