By Dipo Olowookere
Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr Heineken Lokpobiri, has appealed to farmers and food handlers in the country to always carry out periodic examination of their products, to avoid fungal contamination, in order to protect public health, and secure good market for Nigeria’s agro-commodities.
Mr Lokpobiri made this call on Thursday at a one-day stakeholders’ sensitization workshop on the effects of mycotoxins on agricultural commodities, health and trade.
The Minister said, “It is imperative for both farmers and governmental agencies to adapt a better method to prevent fungal contamination of agricultural commodities during growing period, storage, handling, processing and transportation.”
He noted that over the years, Nigeria’s agricultural products have been exposed to pesticide residues and mycotoxins producing fungal, resulting in several rejections of some Nigeria’s agricultural produce by some trading partners, particularly the European Union (EU).
He noted that the risk of mycotoxins may affect growth performance and could be hazardous to consumers by reducing the quality of products and its market value, thereby resulting in commodity rejection in the international market.
Mr Lokpobiri added that, “These poisonous toxins produced by certain species of fungi, have profound adverse effects on the health of animals and humans, as they consume food from crops, poultry products, meat and fish infected by mycotoxins and have resulted in the cause of human and animal illnesses and deaths.”
The Minister called on farmers and other stakeholders along the food value chains to note that Nigeria has a tropical climate with an all year round high temperature and relative high humidity, and that this peculiarity provides good conditions for the growth of toxigenic molds. “The only way out from the adverse effects of these climatic factors on agricultural produce is to apply best agricultural practices at all material times”, the Minister stated.
Mr Lokpobiri therefore charged participants at the workshop to convey and spread the information on the negative and detrimental effects of consuming moldy products to the grassroots, adding that “In this regard, the knowledge you will acquire at this workshop would be of immense benefit not only to you, but the society at large.”
The Minister assured the workshop that his Ministry would continue to assist farmers and other stakeholders in improving the storage and handling of grains, nuts and other commodities in order to minimize the growth of molds to reduce the risk of contamination.
Earlier in his welcome remarks, Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Shehu Ahmed, represented by the Coordinating Director, Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service in the Ministry, Dr Vincent Isegbe said that the workshop was organized to educate farmers, food handlers and all other relevant stakeholders in the agricultural sector on the harmful effects of mycotoxin contaminants to agricultural commodities and its consequential effects on animal and human health.
According to him, the workshop was also to mainstream information to all producers and consumers on its adverse effects on agricultural commodity trade.
He assured the participants that the Ministry was doing its best within its limited resources to assist farmers in many ways, especially when it affects crops during storage. He added that the Ministry was also partnering with relevant stakeholders in food production, processing, storage and handling along the food value chains to ensure that only safe food gets to the consumers’ table, as well as boost trade and quality of Nigeria’s agricultural produce.
In his goodwill message, Chairman, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Mr Abdullahi Adamu said his committee would continue to support the growth of Nigeria’s agricultural sector, and assured that the Nigeria Agriculture Quarantine bill would be passed by the National Assembly soon.
The Chairman, who was represented by a member of the committee, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege promised that the Senate Committee on Agriculture would work with the communiqué that would be presented to them at the end of the workshop.
Also, representative of UNIDO at the workshop, Prof Abimbola Uzomah said the unusual high level of mycotoxin is the cause of rejection of Nigeria’s agricultural products by the European Union (EU) and other countries.
She informed that UNIDO was flagging off a National Quality Infrastructure which requires the support of Nigeria for its success. She called for a policy in Nigeria to eliminate the menace, and disclosed that UNIDO was available to support, facilitate, train and teach stakeholders to enable the world do business with Nigeria.
Representative of the European Union, Ms Fatima Abdullahi Habib was hopeful that the workshop would have a positive impact in the control of mycotoxin in Nigeria.
In his contribution, representative of the National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr Daniel Okafor stressed the need for proper processing and packaging of Nigeria’s agricultural products for export.
He called for the replication of the sensitization workshop across the nation and the need to develop a common message in local languages for dissemination throughout the country.
Highlight of the event was the launching of a book on information in pictures on moldiness in agricultural commodities along food value chains for stakeholders and moisture meters for determination of moisture levels of grains by the Minister.
The Minister later donated an appreciable number of the book and moisture meters to farmers present at the workshop.