Cosmas Chindoko sits on a low wooden stool outside his home in Nkwawe, a village in Mchinji district, about 100 kilometres west of Lilongwe. He sorts groundnuts from a blue bowl in front of him, examining the shell and the nuts inside.
Mr. Chindoko has always valued producing, storing, and selling good quality groundnuts. And good quality groundnuts are nuts free from aflatoxin.
Consuming aflatoxin can increase the risk of liver damage and cancer. Mr. Chindoko says that, for him, the health of groundnut consumers is more important than profits. That’s why he tries his best to ensure that his groundnuts are free from aflatoxin.
In 2014, Mr. Chindoko joined a group of small-scale groundnut farmers called Nkwawe, in order to find good markets and share farming experiences. He says that, through the group, he has learned good practices for growing groundnuts, including drying and storage methods.
After harvest, Mr. Chindoko dries his groundnuts in the field using a Mandela cock. He stacks groundnut stalks in a circle with the pods facing upwards, which allows them to dry well and protects them from damage. He stores the harvested crop in a cool dry part of his house, away from direct sunlight.
Mr. Chindoko says that, if a farmer wants to make good money, he or she must provide extra care in storage. He explains, “There are a number of storage enemies which can compromise the quality of my groundnuts—such as ants, mice, and water.”
He stores his groundnuts on a raised platform to keep them from getting wet. Good air circulation in storage is also vital to achieving high quality. Mr. Chindoko says moisture can increase the likelihood of aflatoxin.
Happy Chinyama is the extension worker in Mchinji district. He regularly works with farmers on preventing aflatoxin.
Mr. Chinyama says that a farmer can determine if groundnuts have been contaminated by aflatoxin by looking for mould on the shells of unshelled groundnuts, or on the seed of shelled groundnuts. He adds: “Other signs of aflatoxin on groundnuts are: shrivelling of the shelled groundnuts, whitening—thus a different colour from the colour of other shelled groundnuts of the same type—and if the groundnuts taste bitter when eaten.”
As he sorts his groundnuts, Mr. Chinyama separates the nuts with damaged shells, which may have been cut during harvest. He says broken groundnuts are at high risk of aflatoxin contamination.
He advises farmers not to sell or consume any groundnuts affected by aflatoxin. He adds, “Even animals should not be left to feed on aflatoxin [-contaminated] groundnuts.”
In a good year, Mr. Chindoko harvests about twenty 50-kilogram bags of groundnuts. He says farmers in his area are selling shelled groundnuts at 400 kwachas per kilogram ($0.55 US).
Mr. Chindoko has been able to feed and take care of his family by selling groundnuts: “Last year, I built a decent house from the money earned after selling groundnuts. I encourage fellow farmers not to just aim at high quantity of their produce but high quality—because high quality products market themselves.”
This article was originally published in July 2016.