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Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss

Nepal

Characterizing and addressing mycotoxin contamination in Nepal

Nepal is a landlocked country of about 28.1 million people and remains one of the poorest and least developed in the world. High rates of chronic malnutrition among children are of significant concern, with 41 percent of children stunted, 11 percent wasted, and 29 percent underweight in 2011. Some of this malnutrition may result from mycotoxin contamination in the food supply. Mycotoxins have been shown to cause cancer, suppress the immune system and are associated with child stunting.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss is conducting a mycotoxin assessment across the Feed the Future Zone of Influence in Nepal to determine the prevalence of various types of mycotoxins in the food and feed supply. This activity is designed as a follow up, and partly as a collaboration (specifically in Banke district) with the Nutrition Innovation Lab’s study on mycotoxin exposure and stunting of children’s development. National partners from the Nepal Development Research Institute, Tribhuvan University and the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) are collaborating with Helen Keller International to deploy the surveys.

The project is establishing national research capacity. A high throughput, widely usable mycotoxin analysis lab is being established at NAST, as a collaborative effort across project partners and the Mars Global Food Safety Center in China. The lab is relatively low cost, will serve the Nepali research community broadly, and provides the blueprint to deploy similar labs in other Feed the Future countries and beyond.

Project progress to date has included several iterations of key stakeholder engagement, survey design and deployment, ongoing lab establishment and Nepali technical team training. A preliminary market survey was conducted on samples from suspected sources of dietary mycotoxin exposure, guiding selection of targeted crops for the full survey. The first round of the full survey is complete, having been deployed at local markets in 20 districts and households in 5 sentinel districts to gain a complete picture of the potential challenges in the food and feed supply. Samples being analyzed include the usual suspects for mycotoxin exposure in the diet, as well as some additional categories that emerged from discussions and the initial survey. These include: rice, maize, groundnuts, chilies, weaning foods and livestock and poultry feeds. 

The household survey will allow the generation of analytical models that relate mycotoxin prevalence with demographic, management and environmental risk factors. Ultimately, we seek to further the development of predictive risk modeling to better understand, track and target interventions for mycotoxin risk globally. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia is leading efforts to synthesize survey data with climatic conditions, to generate maps to help target interventions to chronically at risk, and emerging hotspots of mycotoxin outbreaks. This will be paired with identification of short-, medium- and long-term intervention strategies to reduce mycotoxin exposure in Nepal.

Additional partners include University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which has trained the Nepali technical team and is hosting a Nepali researcher for sample analysis; the Institute of Sciences of Food Production (Italy); and Kansas State University as the lead institute, including on mycotoxins and agricultural economics.   

For more information contact project PI and PHLIL Director Dr Jagger Harvey: jjharvey@ksu.edu