There are approximately 33 million smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa, representing 80% of the region’s farms. Climate change has increasingly been highlighted as a major threat to smallholder production and food security, both globally and at the local scale. Events such as droughts, floods and changing pest and disease outbreaks affect crop yields, as well the storage, transport and consumption of foodstuffs. Although smallholder farmers are adapting to these challenges, changing the ways in which they plant, manage, harvest and store their produce, little is known about the ways in which their adaptations intersect with other food related challenges, including the links between farmer adaptation practices, exposure to toxic chemicals like mycotoxins, and malnutrition outcomes.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #2 seeks to eliminate hunger and childhood malnutrition by 2030. Malnutrition (with a focus on undernutrition in this projects) accounts for 1/3 of deaths in children under age of 5 globally, mostly in Africa and Asia. The prevalence of malnutrition remains high, at up to 30-50% in countries like Tanzania and Nigeria, despite huge efforts and investments in trying to combat the condition in recent decades. Nutrient deficiency, recurrent infections due to poor sanitation, exposure to mycotoxins and lack of basic health care are identified as major contributors to child malnutrition.
Mycotoxins are produced by fungi frequently contaminating staple crops such as maize, wheat and nuts. Aflatoxins and fumonisins are two of the most common mycotoxins in Africa. They are of carcinogenic, growth inhibition and immune suppression effect, causing serious health and economic burdens due to the contamination of staple foods in Africa. Dietary exposure to mycotoxins in humans is primarily through consumption of contaminated crops. In addition to the fungi type and food matrix, climate conditions i.e. temperature and humidity are the key determinant of mycotoxin production. Mycotoxins can be produced before harvest while crops are in the fields, and post-harvest depending on how the crops are stored.
The ways in which the climate is changing, how farmers are adapting to the climate changes they are perceiving, and the implications of their adaptations for mycotoxin levels remain unclear, leaving an important knowledge gap. The aim of this project is therefore to identify how smallholder farmers’ adaptations to climate changes affect the production of mycotoxins and to assess the food safety and human nutrition risks this creates. Specific focus is placed on African children <5 years old.
A mixed method approach is envisaged. The student will assess farmer adaptations, examining past, present and future practices considering planting, management, harvesting, storage and consumption. They will use methods such as oral histories, transect walks, participant observation and participatory scenario evaluation to explore how farmers perceive the climate to be changing and how they are changing their practices accordingly. Structured surveys will be constructed to record dietary diversity, a 24 h diet recall to record to the previous day’s consumption of food and nutrition intake, and exposure to mycotoxins, and general health of the children.
Maize and maize food samples will be collected from households to measure mycotoxins and nutrition levels. The survey and sampling will take place at two varying time points to allow for assessment of the impact of seasonal climate difference and to allow sampling from both standing crops and post-harvest storage facilities. Further, previous food processing and cooking practices, and dietary habits of the past and present will be captured using the survey including a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) for a period of 2, 5 and 10 years. This will allow for assessment of nutrition and food mycotoxin changes following smallholder farmers’ climate change adaptations.