Over 76 per cent of Nigeria’s exported agricultural commodities are often rejected by the European Union (EU) for failing to meet the required standards, according to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
Aside the losses incurred by farmers and exporters, running into several millions of naira yearly, the development has dented the image of the country, as her agricultural commodities are currently far less acceptable in foreign countries.
Though several factors have been linked to this ugly development, but pesticides abuse has been fingered majorly for the incessant rejection.
According to experts, there are three different types of pesticides – herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. These pesticides are used to kill different kinds of pests that are found on the farm in addition to stimulating better harvest.
However, these chemicals pose hidden dangers to the farmers, consumers, animals and the environment.
While herbicides help to increase the food supply, they also contribute to pollution and ill health, ranging from skin irritation, respiratory problem to cancer. For instance, the EU cited high pesticides used to preserve some of the produce as the reason for recent rejections.
From the beans the EU banned few years back, they were found to contain between 0.03mg kilogrammes to 4.6mg/kg of dichlorvos (pesticides) contrary to acceptable limits.
In 2020, at least 270 people died in Benue State from a mystery ailment. It was later discovered that they had been poisoned by banned pesticides in a nearby river.
A recent report shows that about 40 per cent of all pesticides in use in the country are dangerous substances already banned or heavily restricted in European markets.
The report by the Alliance for Action on Pesticide in Nigeria, based on studies conducted in Kano, Oyo, Ebonyi and Benue states, revealed that the 40 per cent represents 57 active ingredients in 402 products that are still in use in the country, many of which belong to the group of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) that are specially dangerous for human, health, animals and environment.
The report revealed that 25 registered products have been proven carcinogenic, while 63 to be mutagenic, and 47 are endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Also, 262 products show neurotoxicity and 224 show clear effect on reproduction.
Just few months ago, another survey was conducted by the Small Scale Women Farmers Organisation of Nigeria and Alliance for Action on Pesticide in Nigeria. The survey found that 80 per cent of pesticides used by women in parts of the North-central region are highly toxic to humans and require additional regulation, and thereby classified as Highly Hazardous Pesticides.
The survey, supported by the German green organisation, Heinrich Böll Foundation, was conducted in Nasarawa, Benue, Abuja and Plateau states, involving 107 women farmers.
The pesticides found are atrazine, butachlor, carbofuran, cypermethrin, dichlorvos (ddvp), endosulfan, glysulphate, imidacloprid, mancozeb, paraquat, profenofos and triazophos.
“The survey results among the interviewed women farmers show that over 80 per cent of the pesticides products and their active ingredients in use belong to the category of HHPs, and in many instances have lost approval in countries and regions with high safety standards such as the EU,” the report said.
The development, described as worrisome by stakeholders and health experts, has heightened danger of consuming farm produce, as a good number of diseases have been linked to it.
Reports have it that some of the symptoms linked to this problem, include difficulty in breathing, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, eye problems, skin rashes, catarrh, diarrhoea, and respiratory problems, among others.
Sadly, some experts claim that majority of the farmers who are fond of using these pesticides are ignorant of the chronic implications, adding that some farmers who don’t always put on the required personal protective equipment during pesticides application have been victims of hazardous implications.
The former National Public Relations Officer, Association of Organic Agriculture Practitioners of Nigeria (NOAN), Mr. Taiwo Oduola, said the negative implication of the chemicals usage have led cases of terminal diseases.
Oduola said: “The developing countries that initiated the use of the chemicals are now rejecting our farm yields. The use of urea NPK, synthetic pesticides, herbicides and others have been discovered by scientists to create toxic into the ecosystem.
“What some of the farmers have forgotten is the fact that farm wastes are good enough to serve as manure to build up the fertility of the soil without the use of fertiliser.”
When asked how the problem can be controlled, he said, “It will not be totally stopped, it depends on choice — choice of consumers and choice of the farmer. Farmers using these synthetic herbicides and pesticides are also breathing in such chemicals, so they also have their own health problems. Those who consume the yield will have some level of health implications. If they have already gotten one, it worsens it. The point now is that let everybody adopt natural way of farming.”
An agro exporter, Adeola Dacosta, who bemoaned the development, blamed the Federal Government and regulatory agencies for failing to conduct necessary tests on chemicals to be used by farmers.
“The implication of the banned chemicals goes beyond the consumption of farm produce. Whenever rain falls and washes the chemicals to any river, it will kill all the creatures in the water and whoever drinks the water might die of poisoning.
“The Federal Government needs to develop strategies to regulate the use of pesticides for food production. There is need for a national pesticide control law and an amendment to the National Agency for Food Administration and Control (NAFDAC) Act.
“An amendment of the NAFDAC act should give the agency power to immediately ban, suspend, revoke, and recall any registered pesticide product with an active ingredient proven to be highly hazardous to human lives, especially those banned internationally,” he said.
A farmer, Mobolaji Alabi, said there is need for extension officers and Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) offices across the states, to educate farmers on the use of the chemicals.
While indicting some farmers for intentionally adopting the use of some of the banned chemicals to make profit, she said some of the farmers are unaware that there are some of the pesticides that are injurious to health.
According to her, the farmers need more training, adding that if possible they should avoid the use of the chemicals totally “because it is better for us to go organic like our forefathers did, than adopting the use of these chemicals on our farms.
That is why our products are being rejected.”
She stressed the need for farmers to grow organically or as naturally as possible for the country’s produce to be widely accepted across the international markets.
Alabi said, “Everybody wants to leave a better life, but want a life that’ll be free of health challenges like cancer among others in the world now. And for us to achieve that, we have to cut everything that is detrimental to our health.”