Pesticides and Food Safety – Murdering Tomorrow Today

Pesticides and Food Safety – Murdering Tomorrow Today

  • Pesticides Everywhere!

Whether at home, restaurants, pubs, workplace, school/daycare centers, markets or on the farm, largely, the food we consume have traces of chemicals. In Nigeria, domestic and occupational exposure to pesticides is enormous. Synthetic chemicalshave found wide application in homes, on farms, lawns and gardens in a determination to improve on quality of life, and food safety and security.  From planting to harvest seasons, variety of chemicals are used to repel pests. Unwittingly, toxicity is initiated and heightened in our bodies and the environment with hazardous implications on health of humans and ecosystems. The level of exposure of children, women and other members of rural and urban communities is unprecedented and largely unattended. Presence of pesticides on pets, and in water, soil and air creates synergistic hazard when calculated with the quantity ingested with food. Generally, awareness of the presence of pesticides is justified by traditional hygiene and precaution like washing, sometimes with table salts to get rid of chemical compounds, processing, longer shelf life, freezing and long cooking. Yet a very important question is, to what extent are such treatments a reliable prevention or therapy of toxicity?

Fruits and vegetables (FVs) are sometimes consumed without washing. Disease no dey kill African attitude and lifestyle increase toxicity in foods in Nigeria. We, Nigerians/Africans, believe that we have immunity against effects of chemicals. This belief has resulted in emergence of a culture of eating without washing even our hands. We forget that most cashew, mango, soursop and other fruits are sprayed fungicides and different pesticides to make them more appealing in the market. Other reasons for spraying are to improve production, quantity and quality, and for preservation. Sometime we wash and for some people, it is a routine that has accompanied some discipline. Unfortunately, washing FVs with water is not adequate to get rid of stubborn pesticides. In addition, systemic pesticides are formulated differently, to kill pests by working ‘in’ the plant tissues and not ‘on’ parts of a plant. In other words, systemic pesticides cannot be eliminated by washing because the compounds translocate within plant tissues. Persistent nature of pesticides and reinforcements inside and outside of plants results in chemical residues found in guts of humans and other animals. What’s more, residues have been analyzed from tubers, stems and leaves, breast milk and baby foods (formula), indicative of a chain of generations of people living in/with toxicity. Pesticides is everywhere in Nigeria, and would remain for a long time, even if immediate actions are taken!

  • What is Nigeria’s Situation of Pesticides Usage?

Since late 20th century, the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, College of Medicine of University of Ibadan has raised concern on health effect of use of pesticides but Nigeria’s response to this call is nominal [1]. Of course prior to this time, other individuals and groups have done their bit. In November 2021, Alliance for Action on Pesticides in Nigeria, AAPN, presented a disturbing report on use and regulation of pesticides in Nigeria. AAPN stated that Nigeria is a large consumer of chemicals that are termed hazardous and banned by EU and other authorities. According to the group, Nigeria has 25 registered products that are carcinogenic, 63 mutagenic and 47 are endocrine disrupting[2]. While carcinogens are substances, organisms or agents prone to trigger cancer, mutagens tend to permanently change genetic constitution, for instance DNA, of organisms and interfere with endocrine system. These tendencies cause cancers, birth defects and other disorders that increaseburden of disease in the country.

In Nigeria, street vendors, farmers’ markets, malls and online markets like Jumia, Jiji, Konga and Ubuy sale a wide range of pesticides.  So they are readily available for purchase without rules and regulations. Pesticides are also relatively affordable in the neighborhood of N1500 and N 54 000 depending on market forces and most importantly quantity. The chemicals are in scary generic names like Sniper DDVP, Sharp Shooter, Gladiator DDVP, Dress Force, DD Force, Tree and Shrub Systemic Insect Drench, Worm Force, Zero Pest, Caterpillar Force, Perfect Killer, Force Up and Lara Force. Based on categories, pesticides and adjuvants (additives that enhance desired properties of chemicals) from different manufacturers basically have same active ingredients. The sub-Saharan Africa is the poorest region of the world. Interestingly, we are a major consumer of abovementioned pesticides without corresponding regulation. Nigeria’s situations is like we are not poor when it comes to consumption of pesticides. Osibanjo in 2002 reported that an average of 15 000 tons of pesticides and allied chemicals are imported from Asia into the country since late 20th century[3]. There is a significant shift from this figure this century. Ubiquitous influence of pesticide market and wide acceptability and usage is an undebatable toxicology and public health concern in this region. Our usage of pesticide is quite unsafe!

  • Which Chemicals Are Safe for Food Safety and Security?

Generally speaking, no chemical is safe for consumption with food, irrespective of the quantity. WHO and regulatory agencies of individual countries have permissible or acceptable limits of pesticides that humans can come in contact with. Developed countries are relatively responsive to regulations. Nigeria and many developing nations scarcely enforce rules on toxicity. Genomic (science of genes and interactions with each other and environment) research outcomes on pesticides are scary.  Pesticide interaction with, for instance DNA, results in mutation. Interference with genetic constitution are noticeable in future generations. Furthermore, cancer, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, fetal damage and diverse genotoxic manipulations are associated to pesticides toxicity. 

To drive home this point, let’s consider an instance. On September 25, 2001, Emamectin (Emamectin Benzoate) was patented. This chemical was approved as nontoxic and found a wide use for food security. For close to two decades, a large number of pesticides in use in large volumes contain Emamectin Benzoate as an active ingredient. The sad news is that subsequent research following marketing of the product revealed that pesticides containing this compound interfere with genetic constitution of DNA with potential genetic toxicology properties and effect on human lung cells [4]. Unarguably, prognosis and diagnosis of such damages are seldom reported since advanced cellular and molecular clinical techniques are not readily available or applicable in poor countries. Permissible level of pesticide and exposure has received inadequate attention occasioning low life expectancy of Nigerians. I wish we could advocate instantly that ‘No volume of pesticides should be accepted as safe in Nigeria’.

  • Who’s Most Vulnerable?

Farmers and farm workers are most vulnerable to hazardous pesticides. Till date, most farmers in Nigeria are rural poor peasants and women constitute a critical mass.  Women and children record higher morbidity and mortality since paths of exposure and immunity are lower amongst this demographics, respectively. It has been observed that nursing mothers in poor communities, in addition to domestic chores, labor more on farms, lawns and gardens to fend for their families. Such informal occupational exposure, without safety measures, provides opportunities for ingestion of contaminated foods while on fields that are sprayed with pesticides. Women feed their infants while actively applying pesticides to FVs, grains, tubers, pets, livestock and lawns. An African woman believes that to ensure safety, she must test any food she would serves her baby.  To fulfil this ritual, both mother and baby ingest pesticides. In addition, pesticides are of high potency and able to remain active and transported or translocated in body system for long durations. In this process,a mother’s breastmilk is contaminated with pesticide.

Concerned about low immunity and vulnerability of children, the US Environmental Protection Agency once cancelled and restricted 270 pesticides. This scenario is far reaching testimony for Nigeria to adopt protection of most vulnerable demographics. Unfortunately, who cares? A very important questions that must precede pesticide-specific regulation and ban, as fulfilled by the US-EPA, is whether we have dusted Stockholm Convention agreements since ratification in 2004.  Commonly, Nigerians lip services go beyond implementation of important agenda that other nations pursue to attain sustainability. A closer look at pesticide consumption and regulations documents reveal poor participation in legislation and enforcement. Inevitably, one concludes that a large number of Nigerian are vulnerable to pesticides exposure and attendant toxicities. The life expectancy of future generation is lowered by unconcerned today’s generation. Is this not a clear case of Murdering Tomorrow Today?

  • Who are Our Regulatory Agencies and What Are They Up to?

The most important pesticides regulatory agencies in Nigeria are National Agency for Food & Drug Administration & Control (NAFDAC), Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) and National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA). Based on time, SON NAFDAC and NESREA were established in December 1971, January 1993, and on July 30, 2007. These three all have mandates ranging from regulations, in terms of quality, quantity and usage to ensuring environmental compliance through enforcement actions. In addition, Federal ministries of Health, Agriculture & Rural Development, Water Resources and Environment oversee and carry out supervisory functions and allied matters. Nigeria has a lot to offer regarding paperwork, treaties and formulation policies. Only implementation suffers. Informal markets and marketing of pesticides are clear indications of policy implementation failure, and perhaps summersault. Until policies are implemented to the later, through full enforcement, we are found wondering who pesticides regulatory agencies are and asking, what are they up to?

NGOs and Civil Society Organizations have shown great concern on toxicity triggered by pesticides. Women Environmental Programme, in 2017 worked with Women Engage for a Common Future of Netherlands to sensitize stakeholders on Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP). POP is defined by UNEP as “chemical substances that persist in the environment, bio-accumulation through the food web, and pause a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the environment”. This is a matter that began in Sweden in 2001 and ratified in 2004 with expectation that the global north, aka developed countries, will support and fund elimination of POP in counterpart global south, aka developing countries. Regrettably, it is close to a decade and not much has been achieved in this vein.

  • How Do We Conclude this Matter?

European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, and European Chemical Agency, ECHA, have long developed a position paper based on the idea of “one substance – one assessment” to improve on assessment of chemicals toxicological properties. EFSA’s role is delivery of scientific advice by providing risk assessment of pesticides used in foods and feeds. The authority achieves this by working with relevant stakeholders, including European Parliament, as technical partners. Similar regulatory and enforcement mandates are carried out by EPA in the US and Antarctica; Pest Management Regulatory Agency, Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Provincial’s Department of Environment in Canada; Australian Pesticide & Veterinary Medicine Authority; Southeast Pesticide Regulatory Compliance (eg Thailand); South American Pesticide Regulatory Compliance (eg Argentina); Middle East Pesticide Regulatory Compliance (eg Egypt) and African Pesticide Regulatory Compliance (eg Kenya). NAFDAC, NESREA and SON are poised to lower, and ultimately utterly ban, use of hazardous pesticides. As a big brother and giant of Africa, Nigeria achieving elimination of pesticide will provide leadership in African Union for sub-Saharan Africa to exit a public health quagmire.

Local physicians, especially public health experts and practitioners are concerned about food safety. In commemoration of Food Safety Day of 2021, physicians of Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, NIMR, advocated screening of food handlers to reduce food poisoning and contaminated foods. NIMR declared that, WHO has publicized that 10% of people fall ill as a result of foodborne diseases. Children below five years are most affected, out of 420, 000 deaths above 33% are children.  Professor Stella Smith of NIMR also alerted Nigerians that more than 200 diseases are caused not only by parasitic microorganisms but also by chemical substances. If such advocacy is heightened regularly and much more during Food Safety Day, individuals and groups will be educated to act.

Individuals, families and communities also have opportunities to provide health education on pesticides in foods killing Nigerians. Nigeria is a very religious country, huge numbers of churches and mosques are tremendous platforms for campaign and awareness on hazards of use of pesticides. Individual action is of eminence too. Each One Teach One is an African proverb of great relevance and fits this African situation. Also, when Each One Teach Two Learn, is a strategy to waging and winning wars – fighting local issues globally and global issues locally. The need for each one to educate one, on daily basis, the impact of pesticides in Nigeria, is paramount given the rate of consumption and current burden of diseases soaring unabated in the country. We must therefore conclude this matter by starting a war against unregulated use of pesticides.

Thank you

[1]Pesticide Usage and Poisoning in Nigeria


[3]Implications of Pesticide Usage in Nigeria

[4] Toxic Effects of the Emamectin Benzoate exposure on cultured human bronchial epithelial (16HBE) cells

What is Education for?

What is Education for?

Education has been described as light that liberate recipients from darkness. In 1974, a notable Nigerian professor of education, Fafunwa, said education is aggregate of processes by which a child or young adult develops his abilities, attitudes and other forms of behavior which are of positive value to the society in which he lives. The mention of young individuals in his definition provides opportunity to mention some other forms of education namely – adult education, accompanied by informal and non-formal education. While adult education is the education based largely on andragogy or adult-based curriculum, the other two are not age dependent rather they are described based on the form each takes. Adult education is any form of learning opportunities available to adult. The term adult is defined in context because while some societies see under 18 as a minor or a child, others see 13 years married girl as a woman and adult. Whatever the determinant of categorization, structured basic or post basic education provided to such category of people is delineated as adult education. When a learning process is ‘not structured’ or curriculum is not defined, such education is categorized as informal, different from non-formal. These two concepts are often used interchangeably due to overlaps but they are quite different, especially to professionals and practitioners of the field. Non-formal education is any structured education taking place outside conventional school aimed at certification or some other attainments. Adult and Non-Formal Education (ANFE) has become a popular concept based on learning experiences adults have enjoyed during acquisition of certificates, professional advancement or acquisition of new knowledge helping us to understand more the meaning and benefits of education.

A case study of education as a process is a Gbagyi girl in central Nigeria. Traditionally, she is trained to develop capacity in tree identification as she collects fuelwood with her mother, or other older women in her community. She also learns how to bear load on her shoulder to enable her convey the woods from the wild back home. According to the culture, Gbagyi girls must accept this burden bearing and hiking as physical, mental and social activity that makes them agile and fit into the society. This indigenous knowledge, is a traditional ecological knowledge aimed at making her resilient and to live in harmony with other humans and nature. In future, when she grows to become an independent female (woman), she is expected to manage natural resources adequately without compromising the future generation. This education for sustainability, though without written curriculum, is a medley of informal and non-formal teaching-learning process stemming from an enduring legacy since existence of mankind, or Gbagyi culture. It is erroneous to describe such traditional knowledge as unstructured just because of lack of modern formal characteristics books and other forms of documentations. Oral communication, traditional in Africa, is not to be undermined by western educations methods no mater its limitations. Hence for a contemporary child in rural area for instance, myriads of opportunities abound to learn from classroom to nature and the other way round. Comprehending agriculture, biology and geography becomes easy for such a grounded child. Expectedly, effort of teachers and mentors blending these forms of education – formal, informal or non-formal – should produce educated generations of system thinkers and future leaders capable of contending with global changes and challenges like climate change, food and human insecurity and global emerging diseases. When behavioral changes become this obvious, education will be appreciated in Nigeria.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. For any individual or society to attain this state, education plays an important role. So many evidences prove that health is associated with education. It has been observed in both developed and developing countries that adults with low education attainments are of correspondent health status. The implication is that functional education solves problems of poor access to healthcare and tardy decisions on health by individuals, families and societies. For instance, it’s been found that educated women are most likely to seek antenatal and allied cares compared to those that are not educated. This is evident in the high disease burden in sub-Saharan Africa that has more uneducated women. The rate of maternal, and infant, mortality is significantly higher in Nigeria than records of the global north (developed countries). How is education influencing health and decisions? Largely, educated people are elites of higher economic status hence higher capability to afford healthcare. In addition, cognitive development resulting from learning exercises and knowledge to make informed decision is more available with educated people. Lastly, healthy behaviors inform educated people to respond swiftly to symptoms of ill health by seeking medical interventions. If education is beneficial in Nigeria, then high life expectancy is one expected dividend.

Unfortunately, UNICEF reported in 2018 that one out of five out-of-school children (OOSC) in the world is a Nigerian and the report is not any better in 2022. Currently, the country’s 18.5 million OOSC is the highest index recorded by any country on the globe. OOSC phenomenon is predominant in the north and girls have the lowest rate of enrolment, retention and completion of school. For decades, this menace has been driven by sociocultural issues and exacerbated by insurgency, poverty, poor governance and corruption. The northeast has for over a decade faced insurgency and insecurity issues by Boko Haram sect of extremist. These attacks have exacerbated cultural barriers and further hinder participation and performance of especially girls since the abduction of Chibok girls in 2014. The curve of low attendance has never flattened instead on the rise perpetually. Consequently, research has been focused on gender and stalled statistics from UNESCO reveal more than 5 million school age girls are out-of-school. Dropout rates are at sensitive teen age bracket. This has reflected in girls leaving schools at sixth grade, or primary school graduation phase, and never to transit to secondary level. As important as the 9-year basic education is, girls are not enrolled into the lower secondary school. So girls have persistently made more than 60% of OOSC in Nigeria. Most specifically, recent policy research outcomes reveal similar decline in girl education primarily due to gaps associated with poor implementation of National Policy on Education on gender.  Nigeria achieving global girl-child education goal in the midst of overwhelming socioeconomic issues becomes a daunting task. That is not to say efforts to educate girls and women are halted. No. There may be need to adapt new strategies of solving an old problem. 

Foregoing data and statistical information calls for the need for parents and other older ones to ensure all children of school age are in school. Policy makers and implementers must ensure that while these children are in school, relevant knowledge for problems solving is available so that the students are able to tackle current challenges confronting Nigeria. In addition, young adults must take advantage of various available educational opportunities for economic empowerment and national development. The 21st century digital revolution provides ample opportunities for ANFE to thrive. Diverse virtual learning environments abound in various platforms and no one should be left behind uneducated. Asking ‘what is education for?’ must be a daily question from parlors to parliaments, to say the least. If Nigeria is able to sincerely answer this question, then light will surely come with intensity to destroy corruption so that insurgency, hunger, poverty, climate change, pandemics and syndemics will not comprehend it.