Mitigating our food grains from contaminants – Daily Trust


Not many people are aware of the fact that most food they eat don’t come directly from the farmer to market where we all buy foodstuffs from.

The long value chain between the farmer and the end user is replete with middlemen, looking for their percentages, who are largely in control of the market.

They range from farmers, aggregators, laborers and agro-input dealers, commercial grain store owners, grain merchants, and transporters.

Take for example Alhaji Saleh, a big-time farmer who ordinarily you will not know his financial status because he rides only a motorcycle. He combs the markets during the harvesting season in Kaduna state. Visit Soba market any Wednesday market day, especially in October, November or December of every year and you will see Alh. Saleh busy negotiating for farm produce.

Most of the maize, beans, sorghum that Alh. Saleh buys however doesn’t end up on your table. It is transported to various warehouses and stores, some for preservation and some for hoarding.

Ifeanyi Udoh, a commercial grain store owner in Zaria, is sitting tight waiting for Alh. Saleh to come forward with his purchases for storage, for he charges N200 to store each bag of grain for a certain period.

Then comes Chief Akinyele Peter, a grain merchant, who comes to buy off the grains, he supplies many of the numerous factories in Zaria and Kaduna, in addition to the retailers who buy in piecemeal. Of course along the value chain, the transporters are smiling to the bank.

However, experts are of the opinion that any grain bought after January is toxic, especially beans. This is so because harmattan periods are best for storage as insects will not hatch until the heat sets in.

With reports that 80% of foodstuffs purchases are being carried out at traditional markets, corner shops, stalls and shops, it is little wonder that most of the farm produce are contaminated even before purchase.

Worried by this development, an International NGO, Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), initiated a project for implementation titled “Feed the Future Nigeria and Nestlé Maize Quality Improvement Partnership (M-QIP)”.

To this end, CNFA, a consortium of the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID), Nestle M-QIP, and Feed the Future Nigeria, recently organized a stakeholder’s forum in Zaria, Kaduna State, on maize, soya quality, aimed at enhancing the quality and safety of maize and soya for Nestle.

The project became effective in June 2017, but actual implementation commenced only after the project launch in October 2017 and period of performance was put at June 8, 2017 – June 5, 2020.

The project aims at interfacing and educating about 28,000 stakeholders in the grain value chain and revolves around enhancing quality, safety and transparency in Nigeria’s grain supply chain through a whole-of-supply-chain approach.

The project staff held consultations with some key stakeholders, including Kaduna State Ministry of Agriculture, Kaduna State Agricultural Development Agency (KADA) as well as some local government councils.

Kaduna State is the pilot state on account of being the largest maize producer in the country, and as a key purchaser of grain in Kaduna State, which produces maize and soy for domestic use and export sale.

Nestle, on its part, said it had found high levels of aflatoxin, fumonisins, and aluminum in these grains.

Food grain contaminants, especially aflatoxin, fumonisins and aluminum, have been pinpointed as factors in serious health issues such as cancer, immune system suppression and stunted skeletal growth in infants. Aflatoxins are the commonest mycotoxins. They are poisonous chemicals produced by certain mold fungi.

Team Leader, Maize Quality Improvement Partnership, Prof. Damian O. Chikwendu, at the stakeholders forum, said CNFA will work to leverage the strength of its partners for the realization of a healthier and more food secure Nigeria and said in order to mitigate these toxins in the supply chain in Kaduna State, the project will provide training that target each level of the supply chain.

To this end, the project team works with volunteers, especially extension workers and National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members by building their capacity to work with small-scale farmers. The project uses mobile testing kits for determining the level of contaminants in grains of farmers and aggregators; and it provides Nestle grain suppliers with the skills and knowledge necessary to monitor the quality and safety of grains they purchase, store and supply.

The most worrisome issue is that these contaminants are not destroyed by cooking and processing temperatures, prompting concerns about long-term effects of chronic exposure, such as distortion of the hormone balance, suppression of the immune system and the ability of certain mycotoxins to cause cancer. They reside in our soil and dead decaying organic matter. Over 20% of maize are affected.

The major contaminants posing food safety threats are mycotoxins, and specifically they were mentioned above. They cause losses, which are measured in reduced crop yields, lower quality, reduced animal performance, reproductive capabilities and increased disease incidence.

Mycotoxin contamination of cereals and grains has raised worry about food safety as these foods are not only eaten directly but are also used in production of various forms of indigenous foods and drinks like tuwo, ogi, kunu, donkwa, and masa.

Initial beneficiaries of the CNFA project, Nestle Aggregators: Adefunke-Desh, Alh. Saleh, Dabol Loryb, Miraj and Baban Gona, all spoke at the stakeholders meeting.

They called for standardization, ensuring safety and giving value to improvement of quality of grains and spoke about various challenges in the application of antitoxins.

Some of the characteristics and practices of some value chain actors that contribute to contamination, as agreed by the experts at the forum, include poor land clearing, non-treatment of seeds, thereby making them susceptible to insect attacks spreading mycotoxins.

The value chain actors also do not maintain recommended plant spacing, do not maintain recommended seed rates and many plant before the rains fully settle, hence the grains mature during the rains, and many harvest while in the middle of rainy season.

Other farmers practices include drying by Buka method, uprooting of soya beans instead of cutting, harvesting both moldy and good grains together, dropping harvested grains on bare soil, beating or pounding cobs as method of threshing, drying grains in the fields or by the roadside, not sorting or winnowing maize before storage, non-use of tarpaulins for drying, drying grains exposed to harmattan dust, and improper use of aluminum-based fumigants.

Agro-input dealers are also not well informed about the contaminants, they do not know the active ingredients in pesticides they sell, and expose pesticides to sun. They also don’t have good storage facilities, they store seeds on bare floor and some sell expired and adulterated pesticides.

Commercial grain store owners on the other hand, have no knowledge about contaminants. Warehouses are poorly maintained and poorly ventilated, they also store grains on bare floor, they do not check the relative humidity of the warehouses and wrongly use force toxin in fumigating the warehouses

On their part, aggregators do not buy grains according to grades, they do manual sorting and cleaning of grains and only one-aggregator has a test kit that tests for aflatoxin levels.

General Manager, Kaduna State Agricultural Development Agency (KADA), Sabiu Sani Ismaila, who spoke at the meeting, said government will continue to train farmers and ensure capacity building and would also improve standard and ensure re-certification of produce.

He added that while Kaduna state will soon set up a produce farm company, the government will continue to enlighten farmers through extension services for increased sustenance and improved productivity.

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