Q&A with Nick Magnan: Interventions to Decrease Mycotoxin Risks in Ghana
Dr. Nick Magnan is the Lead Scientist on the Feed the Future Peanut and Mycotoxin Innovation Lab'sProducer and Consumer Interventions to Decrease Peanut Mycotoxin Risks in Ghana project. He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in international development. Nick’s research focuses on agricultural decision-making and technology use—primarily by the rural poor in developing countries.
Before joining UGA, Nick worked as a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington DC, with whom he continues to collaborate.
In addition to his work for the Peanut & Mycotoxin Innovation Lab, he also has ongoing projects with the Assets and Markets Innovation Lab.
Your project at PMIL studies both interventions and the market incentives. Tell us about the first part, the intervention.
We first needed to decide on the best low-cost easily available intervention to use. The goal was to create a technology package or an intervention to reduce mycotoxins and then test the incentive.
Originally we worked with 40 farmers in the Northern and Upper East regions of Ghana to pilot two alternative drying practices and two alternative storage practices in various combinations compared to their normal practices.
Part of the problem with mycotoxin is that often groundnuts are dried on bare dirt. This leads to the potential of mycotoxin inducing fungal attacks, either from the soil or moisture.
What works about the tarps, is that it keeps the groundnuts away from dirt and the fungus that lives in the dirt and produces the mycotoxin.
Now we are looking at the effects of an educational intervention and market incentives for farmers to purchase tarps and use them to dry their groundnuts, and ultimately reduce mycotoxin.
How easy is it for the farmers to obtain the tarps?
Not easy actually. Normally, they would have to go all the way to another larger town, like Tamale, to get tarps. So we would like to develop a better tarp market.
How are the farmers getting the tarps?
One of the things we are interested in determining is whether or not they will buy them. We want to look at the effects of education and market incentives on buying tarps. We’ve had a lot of trouble selling the tarps that we are offering. Part of the problem is that it is a long time from the harvest season when farmers need to make investments. The harvest is too far away and they don’t have much money, although they do buy them if we drop the price and sell them in the village. Then they will purchase them.
Can you explain more about how your project works with the incentives?
We divide the thousand famers that we have into one of four groups using a lottery.
One of those groups of farmers are studied, but do not receive any particular training or equipment.
The second receives education and an information session on how to reduce mycotoxins and the opportunity to buy tarps in the village.
The third group receives information, the opportunity to buy tarps in the village and are promised a premium price if they produce low aflatoxin peanuts.
The fourth group gets free tarps, information about aflatoxin and the opportunity to sell their peanuts at a premium market price if they are low in aflatoxin.
The intervention is going on now and the follow up survey is going to happen in October of this year (2015). In January of 2016 we will analyze the data and test again. The testing is all going to happen after harvest which is November through January.
Husband and Wife posing on their rooftop drying rack in Ghana.
How do you handle the information or education part of the project?
We have an extension agent working with our graduate student. We also produced a video with David Malouin that helps educate farmers on the risks of mycotoxins and how to reduce them.
What are your plans for follow up projects?
The thing we really want to expand on, is to see how market incentives can affect health and production. We noticed that farmers are selling the low mycotoxin groundnuts and keeping the high mycotoxins ones for their home consumption. So, we want to separately test home consumed and market groundnuts this round. We also want to look at when is the best time to market and sell.
Ultimately, we hope the results from our studies will help determine what types of incentives are required to attract smallholder farmers to adopt the interventions PMIL is evaluating, and in turn, reduce the level of mycotoxins in the groundnuts they produce and consume.