AflaPak: An A-Maizing New Biocontrol Product for Corn in Pakistan
Aflatoxins are powerful fungal toxins that contaminate many agricultural products, including cereal grains, chilies, dry fruits, and nuts as well as milk because some livestock feed contains aflatoxin. In Pakistan, aflatoxin concentrations in harvested grain frequently exceed the level permitted in countries where aflatoxin in food and feed is regulated.
The U.S. company, Ingredion, and its Pakistani subsidiary, Rafhan Maize, have worked with USDA and CABI to introduce USDA’s aflatoxin biocontrol technology to Pakistan, which is in the process of being registered as the first biocontrol agent in Pakistan with assistance from the IR-4 Project. This registration and process will be the first registration of a biocontrol agent in all South Asia.
The USDA-invented aflatoxin biocontrol technology is based on non-aflatoxin producing strains of the fungus Aspergillus flavus that are native to the targeted region. Each country that adopts this technology develops its own aflatoxin biocontrol. Rafhan Maize and USDA have formulated an aflatoxin biocontrol product for Pakistan named AflaPak™, to reduce aflatoxin in maize. AflaPak™ uses safe non-aflatoxin producing strains of native fungus to outcompete the deadlier aflatoxin-producing strains that are associated with maize in Pakistan. Farmers apply AflaPak™ to fields two to three weeks before the flowering stage and before the toxic fungus strains can grow and colonize the maize.
Since the project's inception in 2016, it's already increasing Pakistan’s leadership in regional and global efforts to apply biological control technologies to grow safer crops. Field trials are showing an almost 90 percent reduction in aflatoxin contaminated maize. The program will span until 2024 and include outreach to help other crop and livestock producers adopt a variation of the product. The project team is working toward the first registration and use of this biocontrol technology in South Asia, where it is expected to improve food and feed safety, strengthen food security, and increase international trade.
Dr. Pushpak Mehta
Dr. Mehta began working with USDA on aflatoxin control in Pakistan in 2016. At Ingredion, he is responsible for managing a proprietary specialty starch corn breeding program supporting Europe and the U.S. He leads licensing germplasm, conversion, winter, and continuous nursery management and hybrid development to seed production. For aflatoxin biocontrol he is the liaison to USDA, Universities, and other partners to launch aflatoxin biocontrol products world-wide across crops, starting from sample collection to product manufacturing. Dr. Mehta and his team received the 2020 Ingredion CEO Award for developing AflaPak™.
Dr. Hillary Mehl
United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service
Dr. Hillary L. Mehl received her B.S. in Botany from Humboldt State University and Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from the University of California at Davis. After conducting postdoctoral research in the USDA-ARS aflatoxin biocontrol lab in Tucson, AZ, Dr. Mehl began a position as an Assistant Professor and Extension Plant Pathologist with Virginia Tech. After being promoted to Associate Professor in 2020, Dr. Mehl took a position as a Research Plant Pathologist in the USDA-ARS Pest Management and Biocontrol Research Unit in Maricopa, AZ with a duty station in Tucson, AZ. She currently serves as the lead scientist for the aflatoxin biocontrol project. Dr. Mehl conducts basic and applied research aimed at elucidating biotic and abiotic factors that impact both crop aflatoxin contamination risk and the efficacy of aflatoxin biocontrol. Her current and previous work have focused on engaging stakeholders in order to conduct high impact research with both short- and long-term practical applications.
United States Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service
Deborah Hamilton joined the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in 2016 as team lead for USDA’s Pakistan programs, which include 16 projects and a $75 million budget ranging from animal and plant health to capacity building focused on improving Pakistan’s ability to trade by strengthening its national food safety systems and ensuring it laws and regulations are based on internationally recognized food safety principles and standards. Previously, Deborah led communications and knowledge management for Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, a USAID program implemented by Fintrac as well as strategic partnerships for the Keystone Center, where she focused on harmonizing standards for green products. Deborah holds a Master’s in Public Policy from Georgetown University and a B.A. from Wellesley College.
Dr. Babar E Bajwa
Senior Regional Director
Dr. Babar E Bajwa is a postharvest technologist and good agricultural practices expert. He is the Regional Director for Central and West Asia where he has a number of ongoing projects and programmes. He also performs financial and performance management of the organisation, and delivers performance as per various bilateral and multilateral donor commitments. He has around 20 years of professional experience. This includes, intensive experience as an agribusiness specialist while extensive and diversified experience in areas of food safety, SPS, post-harvest, agribusiness, supply chain development, trade and investment promotion. He has also worked for developing agricultural markets through trade promotions and bilateral negotiations. His most recent experiences include working with federal and provincial governments of various countries, the World Bank, UKAID, ACIAR, GIZ, USDA and USAID. Throughout his career he has made collaborations with various implementing partners in order to mobilize resources. He has extensive experience of in partnership development at bilateral and multilateral levels for the promotion of horticultural commodities in Pakistan, Afghanistan, UAE, Russian Federation, Iran, China, Philippines, Singapore, Australia and USA. Similarly, he possesses vast experience in promoting public-private partnerships to tap poultry, dairy and food processing investments in Pakistan. During the last few years, he has developed and implemented more than 17 partnership programmes worth 50+Million US Dollars. As a professional, he has taken up the challenge to promote sustainable farming in the agriculture sector which will bring improved food access, sustainable income and social benefits for the agro-food chain. He also has more than 20 scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals.