Safe preservation of grains

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In recent weeks, the country has been alarmed by the stories and videos of retailers mixing dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate (DDVP) compound, a highly poisonous insecticide also known as Sniper, with raw beans meant for sale. The plan is to eliminate or protect from weevils. Thankfully, though, the relevant government agencies have risen up to the occasion. For instance, the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) advised consumers to extensively parboil their beans before consumption and to make sufficient enquiries before engaging in purchases. Director General of the agency, Babatunde Irukera, noted that Sniper, by its chemical composition and nature, is potentially injurious when human beings are unduly exposed to it by inhalation, absorption, direct skin contact or ingestion. According to Irukera, even though cooking significantly reduces the risk of exposure from pesticides, prevention of contact with pesticides remains the best option.

On his part, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, indicated that the Federal Government, in concert with stakeholders in the agriculture sector, would create an agricultural agency comprising a minimum of three distributors of agriculture inputs in every local government in the country to advise on the risk of marketing certain products. According to him, the quickest thing to do is to begin to spread information, so that food does not become poison for Nigerians. Similarly, the coordinating director, Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), Dr. Vincent Isegbe, said the government had decided on a National Pesticide Policy following the reported use of Sniper by retailers to preserve beans.

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Farmers and marketers, he said, could preserve cereals with hermetic storage methods, a technology which works on the principle of exclusion of oxygen gas from the storage environment. He identified flexible hermetic storage structures such as the Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bags developed by Purdue University, United States and ZeroFly Hermetic bags by Vestergaard Frandsen, South Africa. These, he said, could be used for domestic, retail and commercial storage of beans and grains in general, and could protect the grains for over a year, as long as air tightness is maintained. He added that infested beans could be placed in air-tight containers and placed in home freezers as a cold shock treatment to kill insects within four days, together with a diatomaceous earth formulation otherwise called inert dust.

It is indeed saddening that in this day and age, retailers and distributors of grains in the country are still left to their own devices. Ideally, governments at all levels ought to have fashioned a blueprint that would ensure that conscienceless and/or uninformed traders do not poison Nigerians with contaminated grain. Nevertheless, it is still salutary that the relevant agencies of the government are at least speaking out on the dangers posed to consumers by contaminated grains. While the actual number of Nigerians suffering from debilitating diseases or already committed to mother earth following the consumption of contaminated grains may be hard to ascertain, the government owes Nigerians the duty of ensuring that the situation does not degenerate further. To start with, Nigeria being a federation, we do not expect the solution to the problem to come exclusively from the Federal Government. The affected states and local government areas should roll out timely and cost-effective measures to address the menace.

Again, while we agree with the Agric Minister that information dissemination is crucial in eradicating the menace, we do not endorse the creation of another agency in the ministry. We believe that the task which the minister plans to assign to a new agency can be accommodated within the extant departments in the ministry. From an economic and governance perspective, the country can ill afford the setting up of another bureaucracy in the name of combating contaminated grains. Besides, it is important to bear in mind that the current Sniper problem can affect the government’s advocacy to get the European Union, which imposed a ban on some produce from Nigeria in 2015 due to their  high level of chemical contamination, to lift the ban on Nigerian farm produce. To say the least, contaminated grains are not good for the country’s image or its economic survival, which is why permanent structures need to be put in place to enforce farmers and retailers’ compliance with safety standards and the international best practices.

To be sure, enlightenment campaigns are needed across the country and this task must be pursued with vigour. According to the Executive Director of the Nigerian Stored Product Research Institute (NSPRI), Professor Olorunfemi Peters, beans of safe moisture content can be stored with or without the use of chemicals. Thus, critical actors in the food chain must be taught safe grain preservation methods in the language that they understand. In this regard, the ministries of Information at the state and national levels should collaborate with the agriculture ministries in getting relevant information across to the populace. In addition, research institutions can, as part of the gown’s contribution to the town, design and roll out food safety recipes for the consumption of members of their immediate communities. On its part, we urge the media to put the issue on the front burner. This is not a battle for the government alone.

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