The Federal Government’s outcry against the widespread use of carbide to quicken the ripening of fruits seems to have fallen on deaf ears, as most fruit sellers, retailers, wholesalers across the country still use this dangerous chemical to ripen and preserve fruits despite health hazards.
Definitively, calcium carbide (CaC2), both of which contain arsenic and phosphorus, which can prove fatal to human beings are still added in fruits. CaC2 is a known carcinogen – an agent having the ability to alter human cells into cancerous cells.
In the country’s seat of power, for instance, over 80 per cent of the fruits – pawpaws, bananas, plantains, pineapples, mangoes and apples – consumed are brought in from Niger, Benue, Cross River, and Kogi states including the North West. And because of the high demands, distance and the fear of perishing, these fruits are brought in unripe and ripened with carbide.
Former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, who had raised the alarm countless times, also revealed that merchants even use “aluminium phosphate to control weevils in beans. We have challenges in preserving chicken, which has led to people smuggling injected chickens into the country, which look nice. Even when they are seized and buried by the Nigerian Customs, people still dig them out and eat.”
Because of the threat handed down by the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration (NAFDAC) to severely punish perpetrators, carbide sellers clandestinely sell the chemical to known wholesalers alone.
A businesswoman, who preferred anonymity, said she gets her fruits from Zuba in Niger State. She orders for carbide from Garki Market, and admitted that, “most fruit sellers use carbide on fruits but these fruits, most times, are strong enough before carbide is added.
On how it is used, she said, “you get the quantity of carbide you want, grind it, spread it on the fruits and cover them properly for days before opening them.”
She disclosed that it takes one with an eagle’s eye to properly differentiate fruits ripened with carbide and those that got ripened naturally, even though the prices are the same.
But the Chief Executive Officer, Consumer Protection Commission (CPC), Babatunde Irukera, had given an expose how it could be identified or recognised.
According to Irukera, “one way of detecting fruits or produce artificially ripened in this manner is careful physical examination before purchase. Forcefully ripened fruits usually do not have uniform colours, appear with yellow and green patches, are hard in texture, low in flavour, less juicy and often will not be as sweet as they should be.”
Speaking on why the use of carbide has remained rampant despite constant warnings, stakeholders attributed the fear of post-harvest losses, which is caused by inadequate storage facilities. So wholesalers would prefer to purchase unripe fruits until they get to their final destination.
Director General, Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI), Prof. Olufemi Peters, at the first West and Central Africa Post-Harvest Congress and Exhibition noted that the country loses billions of naira every year without the commensurate inputs of farmers due to post-harvest crops damages.
He, however, attributed the lack of exposure to the use of local technology and insecurity as some of the causes.
“The essence is to find policies to be able to expose ourselves to local technology and also able to share experiences, partnership, research with those in most African countries like Ghana and Togo.”
Meanwhile, Team Leader, Green Innovation Centres for Agriculture and Food Sector in Nigeria (GIAE), Baba Ashimara, advised farmers to seek modern information so that they will understand how to cater for crops.
Ashimara also noted that farmers should use modern techniques that would not only increase yield but would be impactful and protect the environment to avoid abuse of the chemicals. “Abuse can be dangerous to the environment leading to the poisoning of the food,” he added.
But the Coordinating Director of Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Services (NAQS) Dr. Vincent Isegbe, disclosed that the problem could be tackled with the implementation of a National Pesticides Policy, which he said the agency is currently working on.
Isegbe explained that the National Pesticides Policy will serve as the framework for regulating the use of pesticides for agricultural purposes.
“Through implementation of the National Pesticides Policy, the agency will be able to address the culture of the use of potentially toxic pesticides for the preservation of food items.
“It is a painful reflection as a country. It is something we need to address. The problem is that we do not have the National Pesticides Policy. In developed countries, people won’t be allowed to sell such things without the policy guiding them,” he added.
He further said that the agency is collaborating with “researchers in Nigerian tertiary institutions to tackle the root cause of indiscriminate use of pesticides. We are working with notable pathologists and entomologists to develop effective, organic-based biodegradable alternatives to synthetic pesticides.”
He lamented that one of the major hindrances to the export of Nigerian agricultural products is the high pesticides residues in some of the goods. On this wise, he disclosed that government is “striving to invent biopesticides that are comparable to the chemical pesticides in effect to remove this huge impediment. A couple of field trials are underway in many parts of the country to confirm the suitability of some potent candidates. The report we have received so far indicate that we have come within the inch of the threshold of success in some of the experiments.”