Concerns for food production as most pesticides certified hazardous
Stakeholders have again expressed concerns over the high usage of hazardous pesticides in food production in the country.
This follows recent reports that 50 per cent of registered pesticides in the country are in the category of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) and that 80 to 90 per cent of most of the common pesticides brands used by farmers are highly hazardous.
Worst still, most of these active ingredients have been banned by the United States of America, as well as the European Union, because of to their adverse impact on human health and the environment.
It will be recalled that in 2020, about 270 people lost their lives as a result of contamination of a water source by a pesticide used in a nearby farm.
Experts have also alluded increase in kidney diseases, among other terminal ailments, to food consumed by Nigerians, caused by the hazardous pesticides.
Though investigations show that the average Nigerian consumers are unaware of the amount of pesticides in the food they consume, but food exports tested regularly, show that pesticide residues far exceeded maximum limits on some crops.
This development is having far reaching effect on the country’s food export hope. Since 2015, the European Union banned agricultural products from Nigeria that contain pesticide residue, including groundnut, palm oil, sesame seed and beans. Currently, Nigeria is losing about $375m yearly to ban on beans export.
The Director of Health of the Mother Health Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey, while speaking at a one-day dialogue with policy makers on the Food Policy in Nigeria, stressed the need for policy shift to support small scale farmers to produce food that is healthy for the environment and consumers.
According to him, a recent report by the Alliance for Pesticides in Nigeria disclosed that Nigeria is the largest importer of pesticides in Africa with an importation of 147,000 tonnes in 2020, adding that the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) also revealed that Nigeria spent about $384m on importation of pesticides.
He highlighted the impact of pesticides on the environment to include the ability to leak into the soil and contaminate groundwater leading to long term damage on the ecosystem; destruction of beneficial insects; disruption of pollination; and destruction of soil microorganisms that are vital to healthy soils.
The Programme Coordinator of Alliance for Pesticides in Nigeria, Donald Ikenna Ofoegbu, said a survey done in 2022 in partnership with Small scale Women Farmers Organisation (SWOFON) to ascertain pesticides used by smallholder farmers revealed that 90 per cent of smallholder farmers use pesticides that are categorised to be highly hazardous, and that seven out of 13 of most common pesticides being used are cancer-causing, moreso many of them have been banned internationally but unfortunately still used in Nigeria.
According to Ofoegbu, application of chemical pesticides should not be the first response to pest infestation, saying there are mechanical control, biological control, as well as milder chemicals that can be used before applying highly hazardous pesticides, as chemical pesticides should only be applied when pest is out of control.
While stating that the safe use of chemical pesticides is not possible in Nigeria, he said this is because there are no protective equipment, nonfunctional hospitals, among others, suggesting that promotion of non-hazardous pesticides usage is the best method.
He lamented the economic impact of application of hazardous chemicals is also very huge, saying there are lots of Nigeria’s agricultural produce that are in the European Union’s list of banned food items for export, including beans, sesame seed, crayfish, honey, cassava, yam and many others.
He said NAFDAC recently reported that over 70-76 per cent of food export are currently rejected for various reasons part of which is the pesticide residue.
“For instance, Japan imported 40 per cent of their sesame seed from Nigeria, and recently, a letter was sent to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, as well as some civil societies that they may most likely stop importation of sesame from Nigeria due to pesticide residue, that is a huge amount of money going out.
“Already Nigeria loses $376m yearly from beans export ban, and that is just beans, these rejections have been going on and on, but we are yet to pay deliberate attention to the issue of food export rejection, and these start from the farm. We need to rethink how we address pest issues, as well as storage and how we process our foods along the value chain.
“It should be noted that the same food that is been rejected because of pesticide residue, toxins ends up in Nigerian market, so when people start to wonder where cancer and kidney failure is coming from, it’s from the food we take, our health is dependent on our food intake as well as water.
“Food safety in America and European countries is a big issue. So, if all these countries are taking deliberate actions to control what they eat, for us also it’s also important if we are going to grow food sustainably.
“It is also an issue of food sovereignty, because when you use these chemicals you will lose indigenous species, and start importing foods that ordinarily grow behind our backyard and start depending on genetically modified seeds because when the soils are weak you will need seeds that are more stronger and resistance seeds.”
Ofoegbu pointed out that Nigeria currently does not have any Pesticide Control Act, as the two attempted bills that tried to control pesticides are more or less like an ease-of-doing-business bill, because “from our own point of view, the bill only removed all the hurdles in the importation of pesticides and allowed importers to import as much as they want.”
He stressed the need for a pesticide control policy that will make investors act more responsibly, “if we can get a bill that is for Nigerians and designed to protect Nigerians consumers, and our farm systems, then such a pesticide control bill will make investors shift towards more safer chemical pesticides, it will be such that gives communities the power to sue chemical company that produce hazardous pesticides.
“The policy will also promote safer farming methods such as organic farming, agroecology, the policy will be such that people cannot pick up chemicals anywhere because as it is now you can go to the market, buy an hazardous chemicals and apply it wrongly because it is not regulated.
“But if we must get it right, if we want our farmers to be more responsible, we need laws that will push out knowledge in terms of alternatives, we need laws that will make investors invest in natural and bio pesticides, but the bills we have now are not doing that.
“We have invited legislators and CSOs, we are sure we will start to see right actions in the right place, some private chemical companies like Harvestfield are already divesting into bio pesticides biofertilisers because the world is moving towards safer foods, and it’s a big opportunity for Nigeria to capture that market.”
A member of the Action Alliance for Pesticides in Nigeria, Prof Simon Irtwange stressed the importance of regulation of pesticides for the country, because of the need to put more land under cultivation due to Nigeria’s growing population.
He said: “In those days, women come together weed one farm and then move to the other ones, and by so doing, they can easily handle the weeds that have become a problem in Nigeria’s agriculture, however, due to the increasing number of land put under cultivation the manual weeding became unsustainable.
“By 1962, commercial production of pesticides came in handy, especially given the need to accelerate food production to cater for the teeming population in Nigeria. With the incoming of new technology and science it has become imperative that we take care of the infusion of chemicals in our food.”
On how to identify food crops that have been sprayed with pesticides, he said, “if you see beans that is so clean without any beans insects, beware, what killed the insect is still active and can also kill human being if it is accumulated on our body.
“Also, when you see meat in the market without flies perching on it, this might be due to the fact that hazardous chemicals might have been used to keep the flies away.”
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