One of the major challenges facing farmers in the country is how to preserve their crops after harvest. It is also the challenge confronting commodity traders in urban centres who bought foodstuff in bulk from farmers to store in their warehouses and shops for sell to the growing urban population in the country.

It has also been revealed that Nigeria suffers 50 per cent post-harvest losses annually. This was disclosed when the Postharvest Loss Alliance for Nutrition (PLAN) project, an initiative of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), organised a three-day training workshop on “Proximate Processing Technologies & Methods for Tomato and Plantain” in Lagos, recently.

Senior Project Manager, PLAN, Dr. Augustine Okoruwa, said, the project is predicated on the fact that currently Nigeria produces large quantities of crops, but almost 50% of what is produced is lost after harvest.

Similarly Michael Ojo, the country director, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), has said that preliminary research shows that Nigeria is losing up to N10 billion on post-harvest damages. Ojo made this known at the recently concluded “NutriPitch, the Nourish Nigeria Challenge.”

The Nourish Nigeria Challenge is a programme by SBN in partnership with Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and supported by FATE Foundation. Ojo said that it was worrisome to see the volume of essential food items wasted either during transportation or unsold while some were dying of hunger.

In obvious efforts to reduce their post-harvest losses some farmers and commodity traders have resorted to unorthodox methods of harvest preservation. Some of these methods are indeed deadly. Recently the social media was awash with viral video of beans traders who were preserving their beans against weevils by spraying 2,2-dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate (DDVP compound), otherwise marketed and known as Sniper.

Before now many Nigerians had been aware that this is common practice among some beans farmers, which could explain why sometimes one reads in the media about the death of a whole family after eating beans or mother foodstuffs. It is also widely believed that much of the oranges, bananas, plantains, and mangoes among others that are eaten by Nigerians in our major urban centres are ‘forcefully’ ripened using all manner of chemicals. It is an issue that successive governments have failed to address.

However, it took the aforementioned viral video for the present government to acknowledge that it is a problem. That explained the intervention of the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development,Chief Audu Ogbeh on the matter. Following the furor that followed the viral video in question, the minister  expressed displeasure at the use of chemicals for food preservation and fruit ripening. Ogbe told reporters in Otukpo, Benue State, that it is detrimental tohuman health and the environment.

“Sniper is very dangerous; people also use carbide to ripen bananas and some other fruits; people do all kinds of things.

“Suddenly, people are developing different diseases, something is wrong,” he said.

Ogbe appealed to foodstuff and fruit sellers and other Nigerians to adopt natural means of preservation. The minister said the ministry would collaborate with the National Orientation Agency to create more awareness on the need for citizens not to use chemicals for food preservation and fruit ripening.

“We appeal that they use natural means such as pepper to prevent weevils in beans instead of sniper.

“We are going to use the National Orientation Agency and state ministries of agriculture to create awareness on the need for people to desist from these acts.

“We just have to keep educating people,” he said.

The National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has also warned citizens against eating and buying foodstuffs and fruits preserved or ripened with chemicals. AFDAC also advised that sale of grains or beans suspected to be preserved with chemicals be reported to the agency.  Also worried by the development, the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) has advised consumers to extensively parboil beans before consumption.

CPC’s Director-General Mr. Babatunde Irukera gave the advice in a statement in Abuja, recently, adding that consumers should make sufficient enquiries before buying beans. He said consumers should also sufficiently wash their food items before cooking.

Irukera said: “Thorough washing of food items before consumption or preparation for consumption is a generally accepted method of protecting and promoting safety.

“CPC recently confirmed by credible information that retailers, mostly in the open market, are using a pesticide to preserve beans.

“The use of 2,2-dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate (DDVP compound), otherwise marketed and known as sniper to preserve beans, and more particularly to protect them against weevils, is dangerous,” he said.

According to Irukera, sniper is potentially injurious when human beings are unduly exposed to it by inhalation, absorption, direct skin contact or ingestion. Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) Director-General Osita Aboloma on his part has hailed the consumer, who reported the beans vendor for using a pesticide for the preservation of the produce on sale to the public. A statement signed by the Special Adviser to the DG and Head, Public Relations, Mr. Bola Fashina said  such individual and collective awareness by consumers were essential for effective standards implementation and enforcement.

Aboloma urged Nigerians to take greater interest in their welfare by reporting to relevant regulatory and security agencies any suspected unwholesome, substandard or life endangering products or practices.

According to him, there are relevant Nigeria Industrial Standard and Codes of Practice for beans along the value chain, to take care of issues concerning the proper preservation of the crop from planting to the table and assure the safety of consumers in Nigeria.

He enumerated the Standard and Codes of Practice as follows; Standard for Dry Beans (NIS 1030: 2018), Code of Good Agricultural Practice:

Planting of Dry Beans (NCP 065: 2018), Code of Good Practice:

Harvesting of Dry Beans (NCP 067: 2018), Code of Practice for Packaging of Dry Beans (NCP 064: 2018) and Code of Practice: Storage and Transportation of Dry Beans (NCP 066: 2018).

He stated that the Standard and Codes of Practices, which have been approved for use, were results of consensus decisions by stakeholders, including, farmers, processors, Federal Ministry of Agriculture officials and regulatory agencies. Others are academicians, research institutes and consumer advocates.

The use of harmful chemicals to preserve foodstuff is the clearest indication that those who are driving Nigeria’s diversification to agriculture programme have failed to carry the farmers and traders along on the project. No country can achieve food sufficiency if it lacked the capacity to preserve the surpluses that have been harvested.

From the reactionary responses from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Consumer Protection Council it is obvious that the country lacks food preservation strategy for a nation that wants to be self sufficient in food production.

Advising consumers not to buy foodstuff and fruits that had been ripen by chemicals as done by NAFDAC when the agency has not educated Nigerians on how to identify fruits and other foodstuffs that had been ripened or preserved by harmful chemicals, exposes their lack of deep thinking and strategy to address the problem.

As commendable as the action of the patriotic citizen who recorded and exposed the use of sniper to preserve beans is, the lasting solution is to educate the farmers and traders on the safe method of preserving the farm produce in their homes and stores across the country. The Standard Organisation of Nigeria claimed to have developed various Industrial Standard and Codes of practice for beans along the value  chain, but the big question is, how many farmers and traders are conversant with these standards and codes?

The candid advice is for the Federal and States Ministries of Agriculture and other stakeholders to integrate knowledge of   post-harvest preservation in their programmes for farmers in particular and others in the agricultural value chain. That is the sustainable way of removing unwanted chemicals in our food chain and avoidable sickness, diseases and death.

Uwadima, a  journalist, author and researcher writes from Abuja