• Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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Nigeria’s N500bn garri industry unmoved by Lassa fever threat


Nigeria’s  N500 billion garri industry is proving unshaken in the face of the Lassa fever epidemic which took root a fortnight ago and has claimed the lives of 18 Nigerians, including a medical doctor.

Industry watchers say this lethargy may indicate that government  is not doing enough to sensitise the populace on the dangers, modes of prevention, and treatment of the deadly epidemic.

Others say that perhaps because of the low cost of garri, which is one of the cheapest Nigerian staples, people simply cannot resist the lure, inspite of the overhanging threat of the lassa fever menace.

A sack of garri which weighs about 50 kilogrammes, sells for between N3,000 and N4,000 in most parts of Lagos, while a 50 kilogramme bag of rice sells for between N10,000 and N12,000 depending on the brand.

Garri a staple derived from cassava is eaten by over 75 percent of Nigeria’s 170 million populace and is being threatened by the Lassa fever epidemic as experts say the ‘Multimammate’ mice which carry the virus are known to commonly feed and defecate on garri.

The mice are said to mostly gain access to the garri staple in commercial and domestic storage, which are said to be often poorly handled.

Sunday Omilabu, a professor of virology at the University of Lagos, who is also a former chairman, Presidential Task Force on Lassa Fever, said in an interview with BusinessDay, “if garri is stored where rats infest, then the risk of infection with Lassa fever becomes more likely. With proper storage, just as with other food items, the risk of Lassa fever infection becomes significantly reduced.”

BusinessDay correspondent visited some markets in Lagos to enquire how reports on Lassa fever and garri consumption have impacted on their business.

At the Orisunbare market in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos State, Izu, a food commodity trader who sells garri, told BusinessDay that he is yet to observe any difference in patronage. When probed on measures taken to prevent rat infestation to avoid the risk of Lassa fever transmission, Izu says at the end of business each day, he covers his garri with polythene bags.

At other times, he places a sack as well on top of the polythene bag used to cover his garri.

As the reporter left Izu’s store, a shop owner next to him complained of a foul smell attributed to a dead rat, to which his boss simply smiled and said “this is a rat compound.”There was no mention of stringent measures, perhaps usage of traps to prevent rats’ infestation to the barest minimum.

Another trader in the market said he only uses polythene bags without adding sacks to protect his garri (and other food stuff). He explained his shop is relatively new and that he does not see the need to worry about rats or put any measures in place, other than covering his wares with polythene bags at the end of each business day.

At the Ojuwoye market in Mushin, not many traders were aware of news making the rounds on Lassa fever and rats’ infestation on garri. They however, also gave similar response on storage of their wares. According to the traders in Mushin market, their garri is covered with polythene at the end of each day. One trader explained she empties her unsold garri into a sack with nylon placed in it.

Here, our correspondent also observed there didn’t seem to be any sense of awareness or urgency from the traders to put more preventive measures in place.

The garri business is estimated to be worth over N500 billion based on consumption by approximately 75% of the population. An health threat of this nature, no doubt affects the viability of this multi-billion naira business which serves as a source of livelihood for hundreds of thousands of low income business owners.

Omilabu, the virology professor,  expresses caution against causal disposal of dead rodents as they still remain potent enough to infect humans. He recommends careful disposal through cellophane as well as handling dead rodents with disposable gloves.

Kemi Ajumobi & Caleb Ojewale