Sunday, 24th September 2023

Professional bodies identify causes of grain contamination, way forward

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
04 November 2019   |   3:05 am
Agriculture scientists, grain aggregators, and state officials have identified practices of farmers in Nigeria as a major obstacle to eradicating food grain contamination which often results in high morbidity and loss of lives.

Farmers and aggregators being briefed on how grains are cleaned and graded during a visit to one of the grain storage facilities in Zaria, Kaduna State. Photo: Femi Ibirogba

As 30,523 farmers, 280 grain merchants, input dealers get training

Agriculture scientists, grain aggregators, and state officials have identified practices of farmers in Nigeria as a major obstacle to eradicating food grain contamination which often results in high morbidity and loss of lives.

The stakeholders disclosed that drying of grains by the roadside on bare floors, continued use of Buka method of drying, improper drying, and non-payment of premium prices to farmers for properly dried grains were major challenges causing contamination in food-grade maize, soya beans, sorghum, and other grains. They identified these during a one-day progress report on the activities of Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), a not-for-profit organisation training farmers on good agricultural practices to eliminate mycotoxins such as aflatoxin, fumonisins and aluminum in grains in Kaduna State.

The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, mid-year, disclosed that more than 200,000 Nigerians die annually from food-borne diseases and poisoning as a result of contamination before, during and after planting.

The objective of the three-year project, tagged, ‘Feed the Future Nigeria,’ sponsored by USAID and Nestle and implemented by CNFA is to improve the agricultural practices of small-holder farmers and, by extension, the relationship along the supply chain, increasing their outputs and sale of wholesome soya beans and maize, as well as to improve the health of rural communities through consumption of safe products.

The specific objective, according to Professor Damian Chikwendu, Team Lead, CNFA, is to increase the quality and quantity of maize and soya beans in Kaduna State by decreasing the levels of aflatoxins, fumonisins, and aluminum, being the commonest grain contaminants in the region. Prof. Chikwendu urged the state government, local government managers, major food processing giants and other states of the federation in major grain-producing areas to intervene by sustaining efforts to reduce food contamination through education of farmers, grain dealers, and aggregators as the project expires by mid-2020.

Explaining why Kaduna State is selected as the pilot state, Prof. Chikwendu said the state is the largest producer of maize and a key producer of soya beans, making it a critical player in the supply chains. “These losses are measured in reduced crop yields, lower quality, reduced animal performance, and reproductive capabilities, and increased disease incidence.

In Nigeria, mycotoxin contamination of cereals and grains has raised a lot of concern for food safety as these foods are not only eaten directly, but are also used in the production of various forms of indigenous foods like ogi, tuwo, kunu, donkwa, and masa among others. “The major concerns regarding mycotoxins are long-term effects of chronic exposure such as the distortion of the hormone balance, suppression of the immune system, and the ability of certain mycotoxins to cause cancer,” Chikwendu explained. Shedding more light on the contaminants and how to prevent them, CNFA’s boss said “aflatoxin is the best known mycotoxin. It is a poisonous chemical produced by certain mold fungi. It resides in soil and dead decaying organic matters. Over 20 per cent of maize are affected.” He added that fumonisin is another major grain contaminant posing dangers to human lives and incomes of farmers and aggregators.

“It is a group of mycotoxins produced by Fusarium spp and there are 28 different types, with the commonest being Fumonisin B1. Maize is the most commonly contaminated crop, and exposure to it causes toxic effects in livestock and it is carcinogenic to humans,” he said. Aluminum (Al), another contaminant, is of interest in the project because of the high level of contamination of grains. Its toxicity is a major factor limiting crop productivity in many acidic soils throughout the tropics and subtropics. Contamination of food with soil, which typically contains five to 10 per cent Al, could significantly increase the Al content of the food, he added. “The primary source is the natural content of food caused by uptake from the geologic surrounding during growth and is, for all practical purposes, unavoidable. “The secondary source is the primary content plus any possible contamination from aluminum articles that come into contact with food and additives, as well as veterinary drugs, fertiliser, other agro-chemicals, and the air,” he explained.

The project’s mode of operation, as explained by the team lead, includes identification and registration of participants in local government areas of the state, training of the participants, testing of grains for contaminants, extension field visits, use of demonstration plots for training, use of social media for technology dissemination and sensitization radio programmes. Abubakar Buba, chairman of Lere local government of the state, while evaluating the progress made so far in eliminating the contaminants in the state, said, “First, I would like to thank the organisers of planning this programme aimed at reducing contaminants in grains, especially maize and soybeans. So far, they have done a great job in enlightening our farmers in the modern ways of processing their grains from the farm through the value chains. We have been receiving positive and encouraging results.” Explaining other ways through which the Kaduna State government intervened and supported this scheme, Buba said most of the local governments had ensured that aflasafe, a product developed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), was made available for the farmers to curtail the contaminants.

“At the same time, we are focused on the sustainability of the programme which will be due in June 2020. The government, particularly at grass-root level, are making plans to ensure the availability of the chemical to the farmers even after the expiration of the programme in the coming year,” he assured. Specifically, Buba assured that “the plan is to ensure that the farmers are well-trained and to domesticate the project, which is certainly the only way around it. More so, the number of persons present here are farmers and the issue of practicability on the part of the farmers is resolved. This will definitely sustain the programme.”

On the preparation of farmers in the country to produce adequate food after the border closure and forex restriction for food imports, the administrator claimed that the results are evident as the neighbouring countries that were cohorts are retreating and the price of foods produced by Nigerian farmers have greatly appreciated. This, he said, would motivate them to cultivate more food. He advised that each state of the federation should identify its advantaged crops and concentrate on them.

“I will advise that each state identifies and effects ways to ensure the growth of those crops peculiar to them,” he said. Lawrence Ogolowa, General Manager, NALMACO Nigeria, a grain aggregation firm and participant in the training, while explaining the impact of the programme, said, “Yes. It has been effective. In the human cycle, growth is imperative and obstacles are inevitable. But we have emerged the best suppliers to Nestle because of the training.

“Ever since, measures have been put in place to that effect, one of them is training the new workers and based on re-evaluation, there has been a huge improvement.” More interventions required professor Chikwendu while harping on the sustainability of the efforts to eliminate mycotoxins in grains after June 2020, called on both state and local government authorities to sensitise farmers more and continue on the dangers of poor drying methods through an extensive service unit properly equipped.

Grains spread on bare floors by the roadsides are exposed to the secondary level of contamination despite the use of aflasafe on the farm to prevent aflatoxin contamination. He added that rather than drying grains by roadsides, alternative drying methods could be introduced, such as the building of slabs at strategic locations for drying. He equally suggested that drying by roadsides could be officially banned by the state government, saying, “both state and local governments need to sensitise farmers more and continue on the dangers of poor drying methods.”

Sustainability issue Stakeholders also suggested the use of lead farmers as farmer-to-farmer advisors, grain grading with premium prices for higher quality grains to motivate farmers to practice good agricultural practices and working with the off-takers and aggregators to implement the purchase of grains based on grades starting this year. There were also pleas to the government at all levels to fund the extension agents to continue work on grain quality improvement; establish desk offices both at the state ministry of agriculture and local government councils Director of Agric Services, Miss Jummai Abbi, representing the Permanent Secretary, Kaduna State Ministry of Agriculture, Mr Sanni Saibu Ismaila, urged farmers and aggregators to desist from drying grains carelessly, saying the government would be pro-active about tackling the challenges. However, a deputy director, Extension Services of the Igabi Local Government Area, Mrs Maimuna Haruna, said challenges of extension services include insecurity in farming communities, the uncooperative attitude of farmers, lack of mobilisation and shortage of extension workers.