Maize Box Program
Secure Food Solutions' Maize Box Program seeks to reduce malnutrition and child mortality in Sub Saharan Africa by providing mini aflatoxin sorters (MAF-Sorter) to mothers in farm households for fast and easy removal of contaminated maize.
Mini Aflatoxin Sorter
The mini aflatoxin sorter (MAF-Sorter) is the only rapid, low-cost, portable and easy to use method for farm families in SSA to screen and sort household lots of maize for aflatoxin contamination. The MAF-Sorter uses a patented spectral imaging technology and computer vision algorithm for rapid detection and manual sorting of maize contaminated with aflatoxin. It consists of a lightweight, portable sorting box with Android tablet and camera, specialized UV lighting and filter, rechargeable battery, and software app with computer vision algorithm for rapid detection and manual sorting of maize contaminated with aflatoxin. The app also performs an augmented reality function that overlays red marks on the contaminated kernels for the user to quickly see and remove. Aflatoxin contamination in maize is not easily detected under normal light; but under high intensity, narrow bandwidth 365 nm UV light a contaminated kernel reflects a distinct bright green-yellow fluorescence (BGYF), different from the blue fluorescence of a healthy kernel. A tablet camera is faster and more effective at detecting BGYF kernels than the human eye, which has very low sensitivity at shorter wavelengths.
Trials with the prototype of the MAF-Sorter (2014-17), with US corn, showed reductions of 89-99% of the aflatoxin contamination in maize batches (with a rejection rate of less than 1.5% of total maize).
Quick & Comprehensive Screening
Since contaminated kernels are often not uniformly spread throughout a bag or field, comprehensive post-harvest screening of entire lots is necessary - and only possible with the MAF-Sorter - to find and remove potentially dangerous kernels prior to milling and consumption. The MAF-Sorter enables the user to sort approximately 12 kg/hour (0.2 kg batches of shelled maize; 60 seconds/batch). After drying and shelling, batch sorting can be done in a similar lot size as household milling in about 1 hour of added work per week.
Easy to Share
Because the MAF-Sorter is lightweight and portable, and would only require about 1 hour of use per week by a family, it is eminently sharable at the village level, among groups of mothers and expectant mothers in a village-based health group, farming group, church, mosque, etc. (enabling co-ownership models that improve affordability and cost-effectiveness). It is not uncommon for women in a village to work together on the task of milling, so co-ownership and sharing of the MAF-Sorter may complement existing practices.
Through co-ownership of the device at the village level, the $200/unit cost of MAF-Sorter is spread across 10 households, for an individual household cost of $20, for lifetime use of the device. Additionally, device rental and 3rd party fee-for-service models can also lower the cost of access to the device.
Device rental and 3rd party fee-for-service models can provide additional income to device owners - $20 (USD) per week, or about $1,000 per year (20 households/week, 1 hour/household, $1/hour).
We are targeting mothers of children under 5 and expectant mothers first because it is expected that the message of infant and child health will resonate most with this audience. Also, women are largely responsible for milling and food preparation in SSA, in addition to playing a major role in farming. Beyond mothers in farm households, and farmers, other customers include: village mills, village-based groups (farm, health, etc.), churches and mosques. Income-generating opportunities, through device rental and fee-for-service models, can incentivize device adoption by third parties who can provide a value-added screening/sorting service for the target beneficiaries.
We will partner with NGOs and government agencies to distribute MAF-Sorters through existing maternal/infant/child health programs and agriculture/food security programs (paired with aflatoxin awareness session for target audience), since the device supports health and post-harvest farming objectives, and there is overlap in the target audience given women's role in agriculture.
The Maize Box Program will subsidize co-ownership of the sorter for mothers of children under 5, and expectant mothers, living in extreme poverty - a model based on Finland's longstanding Baby Box Program, which provides a free maternity package to all expectant mothers to help promote early childhood health. When the program began (1930s) Finland was a poor country, and infant mortality was high, 65 out of 1000 babies died. Today the rate is 1.9 per 1000 in Finland; it is 51.5 per 1000 in SSA.
Ears of corn under high intensity, 365 nm UV light. Contaminated kernels reflect a bright green-yellow fluorescence, different from the blue fluorescence of healthy kernels.
Mini Aflatoxin Sorter (prototype) with canvas cover.
Tray of kernels under high intensity UV light with MAF-Sorter tablet, using augmented reality feature to mark kernels in red that are suspected of aflatoxin infection.
MAF-Sorter tablet live feed of a tray of kernels under ordinary light with augmented reality feature marking suspicious kernels in red for easy detection and real-time manual sorting.