The recent report that the quantity of chemicals in preserved beans sold across the country is unsafe for human consumption should worry the nation’s health authorities as well as the food regulatory agency. More worrisome is the fact that some of the pesticides used to preserve the beans have been banned in other countries. It is also a matter of regret that the unwholesome practice has made the eating of beans a health hazard. The alarming report indicates that those chemicals could cause cancer and kidney diseases, two ailments Nigerians dread as the nearest equivalent of a death sentence.
Two years ago, the European Union (EU) banned the importation of Nigerian beans for the same reason that it contained excessive residue of dangerous chemicals. To risk part of our non-oil exports for such avoidable reason is clearly unacceptable. All the agencies of government responsible for Nigeria’s export quality control should be held responsible for such lapses. Yet even if we can afford to ignore the foreign exchange loss from beans, and it would be difficult to argue that we can given the prevailing uncertainty of price and supply in the oil market, must we also insensibly jeopardise the health of Nigerians through poisoned beans?
Beans remain one of Nigeria’s essential staples and very few can completely skip a beans meal in one form or the other in any day. Beans contain rich and vital nutrients considered essential to good feeding. It is, therefore, a riddle why our farmers are yet to develop a safe method of keeping out weevils and insects from the seeds, when it is widely known that 10 to 40 per cent of the crops and produce could be lost to pests.
This is one of those issues that reminds Nigerians of the levity with which serious issues are handled, especially in our agricultural practices. We would have expected that the most humble of our farmers would be acquainted with the safe insecticides, how to access and apply them and why the dangerous ones must be avoided like the plague. But every now and then, the federal and state governments pay lip service to diversifying the economy by expanding and modernising our agriculture. Yet things as basic as essential pesticides are treated with levity, leaving room for farmers to resort to “anything” that works. So much has been said of agricultural extension workers whose presence is acknowledged by their absence in a country whose mainstay is agriculture.
The result is that chemicals that have been banned in other countries still find their way into Nigeria. A more recent example is the Sniper, a toxic chemical containing 2.2 dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate (DDVP), which is one of the chemicals used as insecticide to protect beans from weevils and as a preservative. It has become also the cheapest, most accessible and the most favourite suicide poison in Nigeria. Two-thirds of all suicides are carried out with Sniper. Unfortunately, the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) still permits Sniper on shelves. The many suicides publicly reported demand that the chemical should go into restricted distribution if it cannot be placed under prohibition.
We urge NAFDAC to lead the public enlightenment in conjunction with the federal and states ministries of agriculture to persuade beans growers and traders that they must protect the seeds with less toxic insecticides, and that present practices are dangerous to health. Invisible disasters have probably happened. It is impossible for us to know the number of Nigerians who contracted their cancer or kidney disease through the consumption of tainted beans. It is also no more news that some banana and plantain traders coax those products to ripen with the use of carbide and other dangerous chemicals. Our research institutes must do their own part by making accessible information about the chemicals that must be avoided in the preservation of beans. They should also find out how best to preserve beans without chemicals. We cannot say enough about the need to have extension workers to help farming communities in the best and safest practices to save beans from being contaminated.