College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Agricultural & Resource Economics

The Economic Impact of Aflatoxin Contamination

UMD AREC Alumna Narayan Receives Award for Research Leading to Improved Food Safety and Health
UMD AREC Alumna Tulika Narayan in Tanzania

Aflatoxins are carcinogens that are a major problem for agriculture and health worldwide, particularly in developing countries. The naturally occurring toxins are produced by fungi that are present in soils; the fungi thrive in the hot, humid conditions that are typical of most countries in Africa. Aflatoxins contaminate staple crops, such as maize, sorghum, millet, rice, oilseeds, spices, groundnuts, tree nuts, and cassava.

Aflatoxins cause liver cancer with chronic exposure and death with acute exposure. They are also associated with stunting. Children are the most susceptible to malnutrition and illnesses related to aflatoxins, but adults are susceptible, as well. Aflatoxins are sometimes referred to as an invisible food hazard or a silent killer. Due to the challenges related to quantifying, detecting, and controlling the toxins, aflatoxins research is in great demand.

UMD AREC alumna Tulika Narayan (Ph.D. 2002) has been researching aflatoxins and the negative nexus between agriculture production and public health for several years. Dr. Narayan led the development of a conceptual framework to estimate economic impact of aflatoxins in health, agriculture and trade, to galvanize country-led actions to control aflatoxins.

This framework has now been adopted by the pan-African entity Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa as the methodological approach to conduct these assessments. Dr. Narayan applied this framework to Tanzania, where her work led to the creation of a national-level body to implement policy actions which is operating to date.  Now Tanzania serves as a model and leader to other countries to initiate similar actions.  Currently Dr. Narayan is providing technical support to several African countries that are conducting these assessments.

Tulika Narayan and Lauren BrownThe department is pleased to announce that Tulika Narayan and her colleague, Lauren Brown, were recently awarded the Clark Abt Prize for their research and for raising awareness of the health consequences of aflatoxin intake, which led to new dietary guidelines in Tanzania thus reducing the risk of liver cancer and childhood stunting in Tanzania.

Narayan is a Principal Associate with Abt Associates. She was instrumental in creating and now leads the Monitoring, Evaluation, and Analytics practice for International Economic Growth at Abt Associates. According to its web site, Abt Associates is a mission-driven, global leader in research, evaluation and program implementation in the fields of health, social and environmental policy, and international development.

The work involved developing a conceptual framework to assess aflatoxin impacts in any country rapidly, applying it in Tanzania (and Nigeria) and garnering policy action around it,” said Narayan. “[The Clark Abt Prize] is a big honor here at Abt, so I am certainly happy that my most satisfying work at Abt got awarded.... This work was also my first in Africa.”

Congratulations to Dr. Narayan for receiving this award in recognition of the significant positive outcomes of her research into the economic impact of aflatoxin contamination.

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