Winner of 2013 Norman Borlaug Award announced
A young Kenyan scientist who made major breakthroughs in combating the deadly aflatoxin mold contamination that occurs in stored grain, which has been a serious problem in Africa and around the world for decades, was today named the 2013 recipient of the prestigious “Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, Endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation.”
Charity Kawira Mutegi, Ph.D., 38, who currently serves as the Kenya Country Coordinator for the Aflasafe Project for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), on assignment from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), was named winner of the award. At the request of the World Food Prize Foundation, Mamadou Biteye, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Managing Director for Africa, made the announcement during the renowned African Green Revolution Forum in Maputo, Mozambique.
Aflatoxin, a naturally occurring mold, is a major concern for farmers and consumers worldwide; it is toxic to people who consume it either directly through contaminated grain, or through milk or meat if livestock have been fed contaminated grain. It is one of the most carcinogenic substances known.
Mutegi spearheaded efforts to identify the cause of, and solution to, a deadly outbreak of aflatoxicosis in 2004-05, fatal to 125 people in eastern Kenya who consumed contaminated grain. Her diligent research led to innovative solutions to avert future outbreaks and safeguard the region’s staple crop of maize. Mutegi is leading efforts for the development of a biocontrol product in Kenya that can be used to significantly reduce aflatoxin levels in maize. This works by introducing naturally occurring non-toxic strains of the fungus, which have a competitive advantage over the strains that produce the deadly aflatoxin, a technology that was developed by the US Department of Agriculture – Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS), and locally adapted for use in several African countries by IITA and partners. The non-toxic strains outcompete the toxic strains, thus reducing aflatoxin contamination in the maize crop. The microbial bio pesticide she and her team are developing – “aflasafe KE01” – is affordable for farmers, is natural and environmentally safe, and once applied to a field, the effects last multiple growing seasons, making it extremely effective.
“Mutegi is an inspiration to other young scientists around the world. She tackled a critical problem, and has effectively transferred her own scientific knowledge to farmers and policymakers to help improve food safety for the entire region,” said Amb. Kenneth M. Quinn, President of The World Food Prize. “Like Dr. Borlaug, she has put the needs of people first, and has shown persistence, innovation, effective communication, contribution to science, and application of that science to improve lives and livelihoods.”