There is a compelling need to enlighten farmers and retailers on how to preserve food

The recent panic over beans, a popular staple food, has deepened the urgent need for the education of farmers and retailers on the proper way to preserve many of our food items. The worry came as result of the public health implications of misapplied chemicals on food consumers.

A video had gone viral on how some retailers were using Sniper, a powerful insecticide, to preserve beans before bagging it for sale. The practice is reportedly common place, often used to eliminate or protect beans from weevils’ infection. It has also been established that other food items like banana, plantain, corn, sorghum, apples and vegetables are improperly preserved or hurriedly ripened with dangerous chemicals.

Sniper, a dichlorovinyl, available across the counter, is a dangerous chemical used for killing bugs and insects. Indeed, the Coordinating Director of the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service, (NAQS) Dr Vincent Isegbe said sniper is injurious to health, if applied as a pesticide.

“Sniper in beans is a material equivalent of death in pot,” he said. “So, it may not be an exaggeration to say that sniper in beans is a weapon of mass destruction.” Calcium Carbide, another dangerous substance used by welders, is also often used by many retailers in the ripening of banana and plantain and other produce for quick money.

The revelation on beans has brought to the fore the grave dangers many innocent Nigerians are regularly exposed to on a daily basis. Over the years, hundreds of families had perished after the consumption of contaminated food items either at home or at parties. The causes of many of these deaths were never accurately determined, but it is becoming increasingly clear that some of them could have been caused by wilful contamination of foods.

“Why are so many people going down with liver, kidney and lung failure?” asked Audu Ogbeh, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. “Nobody knows exactly which particular misconduct of ours is leading to the damage of the health of our people. Add all that to bad water that people are drinking in the communities then you can see why our life expectancy is so low”.

Some of these problems are obvious or at least have been pointed out by others. But most absurdly, we have done little or nothing about them. In 2015, for instance, the European Union (EU) banned the exportation of beans from Nigeria on the grounds that the level of pesticide was dangerously high. The ban still subsists. Many of our produce shipped out at great cost have also been rejected and shipped back because of their mode of preservation or shelf life.

Some of the meat and poultry sold in the open market are reportedly preserved with dangerous chemicals. “They inject chickens and make them look so nice and attractive. But people will rather go for them or even dig up buried ones by customs because they free meat” said Ogbeh of the harmful chickens and related foods smuggled across the borders because of the manner in which they are preserved.

There is therefore the crying need to find an enduring solution to ensure that the food we put on the table or the ones we export meet with minimum standards. Last week, Ogbeh called on the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and other regulatory agencies to collectively ensure proper public awareness on the right use of chemicals.

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) must be well positioned to live up to its responsibilities. The agriculture ministry itself could do a lot better by ensuring that useful and relevant information – from planting to harvesting and preservation- is passed on to farmers and retailers many of whom are unaware of the risks.