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May 17, 2008

Pesticides cause food poisoning in Nigeria

The hospitalisation of 116 girls after consuming beans sprayed with harmful pesticides at a secondary school in northern Nigeria’s Gombe State on 18 April has raised concerns about how dry foods are stored all around the country.

“Local farmers have the habit of pouring any storage chemicals they can find on their produce,” said William Joseph, director of research at the Nigerian Stored Produce Research Institute (NSPRI). He said farmers apply more pesticides on beans than on other crops because they are more susceptible to attack by pests. “They do not think about the health implications for consumers,” he said.

The students at Doma Government Secondary School for Girls suffered diarrhea hours after eating the beans and were in hospital at the federal medical centre in Gombe in the state capital for five days. State officials have since banned the consumption of beans in all boarding schools.

Joseph said peasant farmers, who produce 70 percent of Nigeria’s food, do not differentiate between pesticides used in the field and those used for storage. “The peasants cannot read pesticide labels,” he said. “All pesticides are poisonous but pesticides for storage break down and become non-poisonous two to three months after application,” Joseph said. “Field pesticides remain poisonous no matter how much time lapses after application.”

Some traders are also responsible, said Abdullahi Koya, head of the grain wholesalers union in Dawanau market in Kano.. “They add pesticides after buying beans to transport,” he said. “At first we would report them to the agriculture ministry but the [traders] stopped buying from us so we just looked the other way. “Experts from the Kano office of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture do come to the market periodically to demonstrate to traders proper preservation techniques,” he

NSPRI, the research institute, has also embarked on an awareness campaign on the local radio.

Identifying grains that have been sprayed with harmful pesticides is pretty easy, Koya said. “If they are covered with white dust that has a chemical smell then you know.”


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