Chioma went on to say, "I'm curious how this approach compares to that of a spectrometer to detect visual differences compared to normal kernels? In terms of cost, maintenance, dependence on electricity, etc?" We are also working on spectral methods, but we don't have a simple and cost-effective device yet that works fast enough to work in a posho-mill setting. Our project aims to advance this. First we'd like to develop a device that can indicate whether a sample is fine (no need to sort) or so toxic that it's unsuited for sorting (if, for example, most of the kernels are toxic, in which case sorting can't succeed). If the sample is shown to be mostly okay with a few toxic kernels, we could sort it either by density or by spectral methods, depending on which is available or shown to work better (stay tuned!).
Chioma asked "We'd love to know more about how this will be used. Who will use it and how? How does it it fit into the current workflow at the mill? Is it a required part of the process or a value-added service? Who would fund the blower and be responsible for operating it in the mills? How would it be maintained?" Great questions! We envisage that the device will be owned by the miller, who would offer this as a value-add option. The miller would invest in the technology and then promote it by raising awareness. Sorting would be done by him/her at the request of the customer who has brought his/her grain to the mill for milling. The typical posho mill offers one or a few services, which might include (a) a sorting table to allow the customer to pick over the grain; (b) the hammer mill, which is the main and most common thing; (c) decortication (removal of the bran, which is a sort of luxury in most places I've been but common in other areas) and (d) selling grain. Evaluation of mycotoxins and/or sorting would fit in at the beginning, before milling. The hope is that, with public or project-based investment in community awareness and validation, this is a fee-for-service effort that is based on private ownership and maintenance. But because there is a public health issue here, I hope that there is also some public support for promoting and supporting the effort and that it is linked to a public surveillance system that allows governments to track the problem.