A food retail market in Lagos SOURCE: Google
In his characteristic manner, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, raised another alarm, the other day, that Nigerians are consuming poison through the kind of food they eat and the dietary conditions they cultivate. Whilst this alarm seems appropriate in the light of the alleged importation of dangerous grains and unhealthy food crops into the country, the Ministry of Agriculture needs to do more to facilitate the production of quality food crops and promote the cultivation and consumption of healthy foods.
Ogbeh, who lamented a crisis in the food sector as well as the dietary conditions of Nigerians, was frank about the danger of the situation. “…there is a great deal of self-poison in our diet… a great deal of metal poison in our food and the ingestion of dioxin through plastic pathogens among other things,” he was quoted to have said. He even criticised the poor eating habits emanating from Nigerians’ dietary preferences of carbohydrates over fruits and vegetables, just as he regretted the dangerous trend of malnutrition in a third of Nigerian children.
Notwithstanding his paternalistic gesture, the minister’s worry may well be a genuine expression of concern for the citizens; for he seemed to understand the value of a healthy citizenry to overall national growth. He is also convinced about the connection between food, food cultivation, food processing and packaging and well-being. In this regard, his decision to reach out and collaborate with other ministries such as the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Women Affairs, is a well-thought-out plan with promising outcomes. This is the kind of synergy that a thriving nation desirous of positive transformation must cultivate.
It is for this reason that it must be said that Ogbeh’s ministerial synergy should include relevant organs or regulatory agencies such as the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON). This collaboration is necessary because Nigeria has now become a dumping ground for all kinds of products, and there is need for adequate control of what comes into the country as food. For a long time, Nigerians were terrified by tales of imported frozen foods and poultry preserved with dangerous chemicals. There was also the controversy around the health risks, or otherwise, of foods classified as genetically modified organisms (GMO). Again, sometime around the festive season of Christmas and New Year, there was news of what was termed ‘plastic rice.’ Whilst the veracity of some of the claims is yet to be ascertained, consumer experience attests to some truth in their nefarious practice. These products did not get into the country on their own; they were imported by Nigerian business people, who, in collusion with manufacturers abroad, want to make quick profit at the expense of the health of Nigerians.
Beside the control of what comes into the country, there is also need for what goes out. The recent news about the rejection of 67 Nigerian foods in the last two years by some countries in the European Union (EU) has made the need for this mechanism for control more crucial. If Nigerian foods are repeatedly rejected as the reports of the European Commission Rapid Alert System have shown, it is because this government agencies have not been pro-active in their responsibility as quality control organs of government.
Although it is unfortunate that the lack of diligence in the way Nigerians manage their affairs has crept into the packaging and processing of exported foods, it is not too late to reverse this situation. Which is why the mandate given to NAFDAC to certify packaged and semi-processed, processed food commodities for export must be vigorously executed.
There is the need for proper standardisation and certification for all Nigerian products. Ministries, departments and agencies in charge of control of food commodities should take the global standard procedures for standardisation of food commodities to the grassroots. This is because the sub-standard nature of food products, the deficiency in their value and the absence of uniformity in their quality are first observed at the point of cultivation, processing and packaging. These are aspects of the production chain often handled by untrained hands or mischievous persons who want to cut corners.
For Nigerians to eat well, the right food must be cultivated in abundance. There is also the need for adequate enlightenment on the nutritional value and health benefits of food consumed, especially those imported if at all Nigeria needs to import food. In all this, Nigeria should aim at self-sufficiency in food production.
This is where the job of the Minister of Agriculture becomes relevant to mobilisation for national growth. His job is not only to reel out scary data about happenings in his ministry, but also to enlighten Nigerians about the modalities for food production towards healthy self-sufficiency.
His ministry should do this in collaboration with the other relevant ministries and government agencies.