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How waste, roadside display in food marketplaces pose dangers to Lagosians

By Abigail Ikhagbu
08 November 2021   |   2:14 am
Experts have warned that state of the Lagos food marketplaces, especially those that stretch out into roads, poses danger of food poisoning, food-borne diseases and loss of lives associated with auto crashes.

Fresh food market in Mushin PHOTOS: Abigail Ikhagbu

Experts have warned that state of the Lagos food marketplaces, especially those that stretch out into roads, poses danger of food poisoning, food-borne diseases and loss of lives associated with auto crashes.

This is just as most raw food marketplaces visited by The Guardian remained unkempt, filled with abandoned rotten fruits, vegetables and other perishable items as well as general poor sanitary conditions.

The sanitary condition of these markets is a cause for worry as waste dumps could be found at different locations, polluting the environment and making it unhealthy for traders and the public. This is in addition to absence of toilet facilities, compelling sellers and buyers to urinate in open and hidden places around the marketplaces, which may in turn, contaminate fresh foods.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances causes more than 200 diseases, from diarrhea to cancers.

Not only that, but also an estimated 600 million – almost one in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food. And more startling is the disclosure that children under five years of age carry 40 per cent of the foodborne disease burden with 125,000 deaths yearly around the world.

WHO also discloses that diarrheal diseases are the most common illnesses resulting from the consumption of contaminated food, causing 550 million people to fall ill and 230,000 deaths every year.

In Nigeria, WHO estimates that more than 200,000 people die of food poisoning yearly from food-borne pathogens (especially Escherichia coli and Salmonella). The deaths are caused by contaminated foods through improper processing, preservation and service, it says.

Pointing out dangers associated with unkempt food market environment, Director and Head of Biotechnology Department, Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), Dr Adekunle Lawal Kolawole, said: “It’s very obvious that most of the things in our local market is appalling; you need to see the state of our market.”

He added that though the government had been trying to ensure environmental sanitation to keep the environment clean, market operators had not lived to expectations.

“Our markets are not usually clean. That is why most of the foods in our markets are not 100 per cent safe for consumption. That is why we have to make sure that we do proper cleaning and sterilisation before we consume them because micro-organisms perch on them and are hazardous to the health of man if consumed.”

Adekunle said displaying fresh foods on tables which are not very clean, containers that are not hygienic enough for human consumption and on floors is very inimical to human health.

“Dirty and unkempt fresh food market environments tend to cause problems in terms of health. We consume many of these things that are not properly packaged, and as a result, people fall sick. People suffer from diarrhoea, dysentery and cholera and so on. These are some of the impacts on the consumer,” Adekunle added.

Moving forward, he suggested: “We need to also educate these vendors on how to be conscious of their hygiene and maintain cleanliness because any contaminated food causes hazards to the consumers. Everybody has to be on the alert — both the vendor and the consumer. Everybody must be health-conscious.”

Another specialist and lecturer at Lead City University, Ibadan, Oyo State, Dr Nike Olagunju, said most of the environment where fresh food is sold is not hygienic.

She said outbreaks of diseases, environmental menace and social distractions are some of the consequences of selling fresh foods in open and indecent places.

She said: “We are just gradually getting out of COVID-19 and one of the key points is hygiene. When everywhere is littered and dirty, are we quickly forgetting that we had a pandemic that ravaged the whole world?”

Reacting to the situation, a trader at Mushin Market, Wale Salami, disclosed that health workers did come daily to ensure sanitation was maintained, but waste disposal officials should also do their part to evacuate tonnes of refuse generated in the market timely.

Some of the roadside food traders claimed it was easier to attract buyers by roadsides than into a shop inside a market.

‘’It is more convenient for passers-by and commuters to patronise us, as not many of them would want to walk down the market pathway,’’ a trader said.

One Fatima Opeyemi, who sells tomatoes in Mushin, said: “It is easier for us to sell at the roadsides because the cost of getting a shop in the market is too high as many of us cannot afford it.

‘’I resorted to selling on the road because I cannot afford to pay shop rent; they charge us above N3million just to rent a shop because developer controls the shops. I cannot afford that amount and I need to sell to sustain my family. That is why I sell on the roadside.”

Another trader, who sells pepper and onions at Mushin market, Fasiat Buhari, revealed that she also could not afford a shop at the market because of the high cost.

Buhari bemoaned activities of area boys as one of the challenges faced at the market, saying: “Area boys always move around the market and charge us between N500 to N1000 or sometimes above daily. They call it ‘tax’ because they are the ones that give us spaces to sell on the roadsides.

“The money is too much as there is no much profit on what we sell. We want the government to improve this market and make it accessible and the shops affordable for us all.”

Oyingbo market is also beset with similar challenges as many traders were seen selling by the roadsides and disrupting traffic flow.

One Bolu Isaiah, who sells rice at the market, said traders faced constant harassment from task force officials, policemen and other officials.

Another trader who sells vegetables at Oyingbo market, Nkechi John, said: “The economy is affecting our sales. We do not sell as we used to. I used to have a shop at the market where I paid thousands of naira every year, but I always experienced low patronage. So, earlier this year, I decided to let go of my shop and discovered that people by the roadsides sell more than those inside the market because they have more access to customers.

“Selling by the roadside has not been easy as I face challenges every day, but I do not have any choice. I am pleading with the government to change its policy a little bit to help the masses. The government should please come to our aid.”

At Mile 12 market, where fresh foods are sold in unkempt environment, it was observed that traders displayed their farm produce by the roadside too, and commercial buses picked up passengers from the road, compounding traffic gridlock on the route.

Because of the way the fresh food marketplaces are structured in Lagos, motorists too are finding it difficult to transport goods in and out of the market, while it is also a difficult task for buyers to gain access to the main market freely.

Mallam Saidu, a retailer selling onions, said that he got more patronage from customers by the roadside than inside a shop.

He explained: “It is not everybody that likes entering inside marketplace to buy something. Some people, in a hurry, always buy from us by the roadside, and car owners who do not have where to park their cars quickly buy from us.”

Janet Babatunde, who sells tomato in Mile 12, said that she wished to get a shop, as keeping her goods was a very big challenge.

She said: “I have a store, which I share with about five people. Sometime, I experienced loss of goods as they got stolen or missing. This is a very big issue as it results to fight and disunity among us.

“I have plans to get my own personal shop, but I cannot afford it now because the prices are high and I am not getting much profit from the stuffs I am selling.”

HOWEVER, some food and neighbourhood marketplaces in Lagos are ideals and models, though there are infractions here and there.

Such marketplaces include Shopping Arena at Bolade, Oshodi, Lagos, where fresh foodstuffs are sold, and the market environment seems a little organised as every trader has his or her space to display stuffs.

Another ideal fresh food neighbourhood marketplace, among others, is at off Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Town Planning, Ilupeju.

Hence, experts have called on Lagos State government to restructure existing and establish several neighbourhood fresh food marketplaces where Lagos residents can source hygienic food, where aggregators and vendors would have access to shared storage facilities and decent stalls.

This, they said, would prevent food-borne diseases, food poisoning and associated but preventable deaths as well as disease burdens.