BusinessDay

Wrong alarms about Nigeria’s food insecurity

IF we are what we eat, according to the experts, can Nigeria’s dreary situations be attributed to our foods? Are we not pressing the wrong alarms on food scarcity?

In 1826 when Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a French lawyer, politician, and famous gastronome, wrote ”Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es”, which translates to “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are”, there was no Nigeria as we know it today.

Ludwig Feuerbach, a German philosopher, coined the phrase more succinctly during the turmoil of the German Revolution in 1848, “We are what we eat”. The claims apply to Nigerians.

Various nutritionists have in their studies validated the effects of foods on personalities and general well-being. Food can be a source of good health or poison.

When alarms are raised about food security in Nigeria, they centre on the quantity of foods available for public consumption. Quality gets zero attention.

Our alarms are about the limited access to farms due to insecurity, the rising prices of foods and the impact of climate change on food production summarise our concerns over food insecurity.

They are never about the poisons sold in our markets as foods. Most of our foods are not fit for consumption and would not have been eaten elsewhere.

None of our markets is an exception in the sales of these tainted products. Some sellers boast of products that were not forced to ripe. Most times they are not truthful.

For years there have been suggestions that calcium carbide is used in ripening the fruits that we consume. The debates on its harmful effects are in the open. Nobody is doing anything to stop the poisoning of our foods.

According to Wikipedia, “Calcium Carbide is a dangerous and corrosive chemical. Carbide ripened fruits on consumption cause several harmful effects to human health. CaC2 has cancer causing properties and contains traces of arsenic and phosphorous hydride.”

This sounds clear. It however says nothing about how cumulative these “harmful effects to human health” are. Could they be the unknown illnesses that kill our people. What is the effect of these unwholesome foods on several generations of Nigerians?

Apple, avocado, banana, guava, mango, orange, pawpaw, pear, plantain, tomato are among foods that get the ripening treatments to extend their lifespans during transportations to markets. Another reason could be to fasten ripening to meet demands for the products.

Ripening agents can be used with a measurable level of safety in the hands of experts who recognise the health hazards poor handling can cause. They manage them. Our case is entirely different.
From the application of chemicals to keep weevils off beans to their use on fruits, the applications are by users who have no professional training on the use of the chemicals. The first challenges lie on the unregulated access to the agents which the untrained farmers and traders some put together themselves.

How widespread these are these hazardous practices? Does the public know?

Knowledge of the fact that illegal chemicals are used in food preservation is public. The consequences are not well-known. The disinterest of relevant government agencies misleads the public into believing that the risks to the health of these foods must be low. They are not.

The tastes of the products are bad. Fruits are unevenly riped. Pieces from the same pineapple taste differently. They spoil quickly, decolour rapidly. Ones like plantain turn out wrongly when fried or boiled.

High prices of the foods are not the only issue. Family is spending more without getting value for the foods they buy. Some fruits are harvested before they mature, forced to ripe. They are not edible.

Purchased food items that spoil quickly are losses families bear in these harsh times. The ability of farmers to cope with higher demands from food wasted through the chemical ripening of fruits is in doubt.

Strange illnesses could be among the consequences. Unexplainable deaths are on the increase.

Without further debates about what we eat do to us, the authorities should get the relevant departments in agriculture, health – at all levels – and standards organisation to stop these practices. If they succeed, we would have taken a giant step in food security.

Fidelity in our food productions would help in resolving the puzzle about what we eat. We may even handle minor lingering matters of our leaders and their followers.

Could our foods be responsible for the type of leaders we churn out – and those who vote them into office?
. Isiguzo is a major commentator on minor issues

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