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Chemicals in our food: The implication on Nigeria’s trade, health

According to the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), Nigeria loses about $362.5m yearly in foreign exchange to the ban on the exportation of beans in…

According to the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), Nigeria loses about $362.5m yearly in foreign exchange to the ban on the exportation of beans in the last eight years. The banned beans were found to contain between 0.03mg kilograms to 4.6mg/kg of Dichlorvos; a pesticide activity ingredient ban in the EU since 2006 and many other countries (like Japan, China, India, Canada, Australia, etc) due to its health and environmental effect.

According to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), over 76 per cent of the country’s commodities are often rejected by the EU for not meeting required safety standards. Agricultural products like beans, sesame seeds, melon seeds, dried fish, dried meat, peanut ships, groundnut, palm oil and yam, exported from Nigeria have in the past 10 years been banned by the EU due to the presence of dangerous pesticide residues.

In 2013, 24 agro-products originating from Nigeria but exported to the United Kingdom were rejected, the figure increased to 42 in 2014. In 2016, 24 exported food products were also rejected. Recent data on similar rejections are yet to be reported as the ban persists on our food export markets. Recently, the Japanese government has given Nigeria a warning of a possible rejection of Nigeria’s sesame seed due to the presence of pesticide residue. With Nigeria accounting for 30 per cent of Japanese sesame import, this will spell huge loss for the country. 

In fact, over 48 per cent of pesticide active ingredients still registered in Nigeria have been withdrawn from the European market, in part because of their high human and environmental toxicity. The export of crops grown with such pesticides to Europe or other target markets with similar regulations is an automatic rejection.

The European Council of the European Union (EU) presented their ‘farm to fork’ strategy in May 2020, as one of the key actions under the European Green Deal. The strategy intends to shift the current EU food system towards making their food systems fair, safer, nutritious, healthy, environmentally friendly, organic and sustainable.

The strategy foresees a number of initiatives and legislative proposals, among others, to cut pesticide use by 50 per cent by 2030, improve organic farming, improve front-of-pack nutrition labelling and sustainable food labelling, etc. 

With more countries making similar shifts away from hazardous pesticides to a safer, organic and sustainable farm system and food, what is the implication of this on Nigeria’s future trade balance; and how should agribusinesses and farmers respond to this? Can the Nigerian government, her farm communities and businesses take advantage of the global shift and become the world capital of safer nutritious food? 

The rejection of Nigeria’s agricultural food export is a major setback for a country desperate to expand its export basket, increase FOREX earnings and create jobs. Aside from the money lost by exporters and the Nigerian government, the continuous rejection of Nigeria’s food export is a dent on the country’s image. 

The forbidden fruits – tested, and rejected internationally, are traded and consumed locally by Nigerians. A recent survey shows that seven out of the 13 active ingredients in the most common pesticide brands used to grow food by small-scale women farmers in Nigeria are cancer-causing. Seventy-five per cent of the surveyed women farmers report health challenges which they attribute to pesticide use. Twenty-five per cent of registered pesticide products as of 2019 have been proven carcinogenic, 63 mutagenic, 262 neurotoxicity and 244 show clear effects on reproduction. The lab results on crops, water and soil samples collected from farms, markets, and rivers in Nigeria show the presence of highly hazardous pesticide residues, which are injected by consumers and used by communities.

Shreds of evidence of pesticide-related mortality abound in Nigeria’s media space – with the latest case of 270 people dead in Benue State as a result of pesticide contamination in 2020.  Over 85 per cent of smallholder women farmers do not use personal protective equipment (PPEs) in pesticide application, due to their unavailability and exorbitant prices.

This is also the case for farm workers in corporate farms or contacts farming agreements who are mostly neither provided with the necessary PPEs and/or informed with the full knowledge of pesticide risk by their employers/contractors/aggregators or agrochemical companies. This is a violation of contractual laws and the right to occupational safety and health as derived from Nigeria’s Constitutional right to life and safety. 

How should Nigeria react to the fact that most of the internationally banned pesticides used in Nigerian and many other developing countries are produced and exported by more developed countries in EU and Asia – who reject our food exports and are deliberately turning developing countries like ours into a dumping ground for their banned highly hazardous pesticides? 

Agricultural training programmes for farmers either by the government, agrochemical companies, private sector extension farm workers and/or international development partners are packed with techniques to enhance agro-mechanisation, use of genetically engineered seeds, improve safety in the application of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, but largely fail to give farmers and trainee a full knowledge of the dangers and consequences of pesticide hazards.

The full disclosure of the consequences of the wrong application of pesticide and its impact on the environment would most likely cause more responsible use of pesticides or better shift towards more nature-friendly and safer pest control methods and inputs like use of biopesticides, nature pest control methods, and fairly mild pesticide brands.

Continued on www.dailytrust.com


Ofoegbu is the Lead Coordinator, Alliance for Action on Pesticide in Nigeria