The History of ACEMFS
In 2012, the Food and Toxicology Research Group (FTRG) was established in the Department of Biochemistry, Federal University of Technology Minna, Niger State, Nigeria, with Professor Hussaini Anthony Makun as the Lead Researcher. The Group conducted researches in monitoring and evaluation of the health impacts of mycotoxins, heavy metals, African traditional medicinal plants and substances of abuse, with a view to establishing novel integrated intervention strategies against these toxicants. Following the call for proposals for the establishment of Africa Centres of Excellence in May 2018, by the National Universities Commission, World Bank and Association of Africa Universities under the ACE-3 impact project that is designed to improve the quality and internationalization of Postgraduate education in Central and West Africa, FTRG along with five other research groups in the Federal University of Technology Minna submitted six proposals on cancer and diabetes, flood modelling, nanotechnology, power and automation, sustainable housing and land management and, mycotoxin and food safety. The proposal for the establishment of Africa Centre of Excellence for Mycotoxin and Food Safety (ACEMFS), led by the FTRG was one of the ten successful new Centres selected from the 132 proposals submitted in Nigeria. The Centre was launched at an inaugural meeting of stakeholders held on 17th to 21st June, 2019. The proposal would not have been successful without the unrelenting support of the Vice Chancellor, Professor Abdullahi Bala and our over 40 academic and industry/sectoral partners from across the six continents of the globe that are listed below.
Food safety and insecurity, malnutrition and poverty are severe interdependent development challenges in Africa. Almost half of Africa’s population is living below the poverty line (48.5%) (World Bank, 2010), suffers from chronic hunger (75%) and malnourishment (226.7 million-20.5%) and these figures are highest in Central and West African regions. Food production increases resulting from agricultural initiatives are compromised by food borne diseases; to this effect, much effort is already deployed to address the threat from mycotoxins, major biotic constraints to food security causing losses in crop yield, human productivity (40%) and in export, and lowered performance of animal husbandry in addition to the direct human health impacts of increased incidence of cancers, growth stunting in children, reduced life expectancy and death. Other threats, such as salmonellosis, entero-haemorrhagic, hepatitis A, acute and chronic aflatoxicosis, cholera, heavy metal poisoning, the threat of antibiotic resistance arising from improper use of veterinary drugs, and chronic pesticide and industrial chemical residue exposure need urgent attention. These pervasive problems, which affect children at a disproportionately high rate, require transformative science, engineering and policy solutions brought about by a knowledgeable workforce. Unfortunately, there is lack of laboratory infrastructure and knowledge and skills to provide effective food safety operations in Central and West African regions. The creation of the Africa Center of Excellence for Mycotoxin and Food Safety creates learning opportunities and research results to address Africa’s shortage of expertise and applicable solutions to ensure a safe, controlled and sufficient food supply that will support economic growth and public health.
The Education objective of the ACEMFS is to create an interdisciplinary, experiential education model that will prepare a cadre of future leaders focused on the rapidly emerging need for innovations at the nexus of food security, food safety, agricultural productivity and economics from local to global scales.
The ACEMFS while leveraging on existing National Centre for Excellence for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and food safety related postgraduate degree programmes in the University namely; Biochemistry, Analytical Chemistry, Microbiology, Crop Breeding and Genetics, Food Processing Engineering, Nanotechnology, Animal Health, Public Health, Entomo-Toxicology and Applied Mathematics, has established new Masters and PhD programmes in Food Safety, Toxicology, Molecular Biology and Bioinformatics to fill current critical knowledge and skill gaps required to train a skilled and innovative work-force that would transform Africa’s natural resources into goods and services, driven by entrepreneurship and information and communication technology (ICT), to positively affect the economy and thus the quality of life of her people. The education package will also include workshops for farmers, manufacturers, food vendors and consumers on the occurrence, health and economic effects of mycotoxins, food borne pathogens, heavy metals, veterinary and pesticide residues, and industrial processing induced food toxicants in the food value chain and effective approaches for their prevention and control in food system. Short courses for industry and government food regulators will be conducted on food policy and regulations, ICT application in Food Safety and innovative technologies in mitigation of food toxicants. The Centre shall adopt the traditional classroom and digital teaching, and Industry internships. ACEMFS pilots teaming agreements with sectoral partners for graduate students and Post Docs in innovation training and industry mentoring.
Research Objectives of ACEMFS
The Research objectives of the CoE are 1) To foster impactful interdisciplinary research and 2) To implement solutions that improve the quality of life of Africans through fit-for-purpose interventions fostering economic growth and access to sufficient safe food for all. These objectives address the five sustainable development goals of poverty reduction, zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, and quality education, and gender equality by 2030. The intervention strategies will include developing early warning systems, fit-for-purpose good agricultural and food processing codes of practice, drought, pest and mycotoxin resistant cultivars, phytofungicides, bio-competitively eliminating mycotoxin producing fungi at the farm, nanobased mycotoxin feed binder and detoxifiers, and portable detection systems. Activities will also entail educating value chain actors (crop and livestock producers, food and beverages industries, food regulators) and graduate students. The activities will be realized with a view to establishing an integrated prevention and control scheme through the entire value chain from farm to fork of the most consumed and economically valuable crops and their food and feed products (i.e. maize, rice, sorghum, millet, wheat, soybean, cassava, sesame, groundnut, animal feed, livestock products including milk, fish and egg, fruits and vegetables) in Africa.The ACEMFS will also only conduct regional monitoring of heavy metals, veterinary drug and pesticide residues as dictated by the needs of regional (Africa) food control systems and CODEX Alimentarius Commission for development of Standards.