the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), some weeks ago sent a warning signal to all farmers, traders and the general public to desist from the act of ripening fruits with calcium carbide, which is said to be very dangerous to health, as it is now regarded as a criminal offence.
The agency, through a press release signed by the Director General, Prof. Moji Adeyeye, said NAFDAC is commencing immediate nationwide monitoring of fruits markets to check activities of unscrupulous traders involved in illegal artificial ripening of fruits using hazardous chemicals such as calcium carbide, as perpetrators would be prosecuted.
Against the foregoing background, DAILY INDEPENDENT randomly sought the views of consumers in the fruit markets across Lagos State who unanimously said that mere statement by NAFDAC would not be enough to get the people informed as it is not everyone that reads newspapers or have access to the internet. Rather, they suggested in their views that NAFDAC should rather adopt traditional communication strategy that would pave the way to meeting and interacting with the target audiences one-on-one.
Mr. Udoka Egerue, a nurse, said: “I am surprised that all this while, officials of NAFDAC are just realising the risk posed by artificially ripened fruits. They are supposed to be conducting regular checks in the markets and in the same vein informing and educating both consumers and the sellers. I am saying the lives of many consumers have been negatively affected by ignorantly consuming artificially-ripened fruits which is usually packed into bags from various farms across the country.
“The contaminated products are transported to city markets and consumed by people every day. Though NAFDAC is aware of the use of artificial ripening agents, no strong measures have been taken to curb the practice all this while”
It would be recalled that the House of Representatives during the month of April urged the Executive to check the sale and consumption of artificially-ripened fruits in the country and prosecute those involved.
It also urged the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to immediately carry out massive enlightenment to sensitise the public.
The decision from the lower house followed a motion by Edward Pwajok (Plateau-APC) at plenary, who said that in a bid to make inordinate profit and capitalise on the huge national demand for fruits, especially mango, banana, plantain and oranges, fruit dealers used a chemical, calcium carbide, to ripen fruits. He added: “These acts are reported to cause serious health problems because of their radioactive elements that cause cancer.
“The application of the noxious chemicals is done by farmers and/or sellers without the knowledge of innocent buyers and consumers who take fruits because of its nutritional value.”
The lawmaker disclosed that NAFDAC had warned Nigerians to shun the consumption of fruits ripened with calcium carbide, adding that the act was the reason cancer cases were on the rise in Nigeria.
When DAILY INDEPENDENT parleyed with some fruit sellers at Ojota, Oshodi, Mushin and Agege; all in Lagos, they all denied ripening fruits with the chemical.
Mrs. Ogunmuyiwa said, “If I sell artificially-ripened fruits then the health of my customers will be affected negatively. Though my customers prefer ripened fruits but I will not ripen fruits for them artificially.”
Speaking on the issue, Edmund Iweka said, “It’s unfortunate that fruits, which are considered good for health, are ripened artificially. And most customers due to ignorance are buying such fruits.”
Be that as it may, the challenge which most consumers parleyed with by DAILY INDEPENDENT pointed out is that of NAFDAC not using the appropriate channels of communication to reach its audiences. They reasoned that merely issuing press release on the threat in the fruit markets, and getting it published in newspapers, and perhaps on its website would not be effective enough to get the people informed or educated on the health dangers which artificially-ripened fruits pose to generality of consumers who patronise fruit markets across the country.
Mr. Nduka Osegi, while proffering solution on how consumers in the fruits markets can be adequately informed on the dangers of consuming carbide-ripened fruits said there should be connections with the market, particularly sellers and target consumers, advocating that efforts should be geared toward providing consumer education to everyone, particularly consumers at the grassroots.
He said: “Face-to-face communication can be a best-bet in this context. The issue now is beyond the issuance of press release.”
He explained that face-to-face communication strategy would go a long way in creating awareness or encouraging a specific action from the targeted audience. He said “a grassroots strategy can have a powerful impact”.
To this end, Osegi suggested that NAFDAC should adopt Town-hall style meetings as a way of ensuring that its message gets to a wide spectrum of its publics.
He said using town hall meetings to reach fruits sellers would be very effective since the platform has been in existence for ages.
He said, “It would offer NAFDAC a better opportunity to communicate with sellers, buyers and other members of the public as well as such forum would create room for give-and-take between fruit sellers and buyers.” He added that it would no doubt endear NAFDAC to the subliminal of consumers at the grassroots.
He added that with frequent use of Town Hall meetings that NAFDAC would be in a better position to be connecting with the people, expanding top-down communication, gathering valuable feedback and brainstorming new strategies that can be brought to bear in understanding why sellers engage in the nefarious activity of ripening fruits with Carbide.
He corroborated the views of other respondents who said the issuance of press statement is not enough for getting the people informed on the issue of ripening fruits with Carbide.
Considering the danger which artificial means of ripening fruits poses to the health of consumers in the fruits markets, Mrs. Osawaru Gladys said “it is expedient for NAFDAC, and even the lawmakers to synergise in order to find a way the problem can be tackled, particularly as regards punishing those that may be found wanting in the nefarious act of using Calcium Carbide to ripen fruits meant for unsuspecting customers.
Recall that Dr Mustapha Bature, Clinical Mentor, Kebbi State Primary Health Care Development Agency, has warned that consumption of fruits such as mango, banana, pawpaw and plantain, artificially ripened by Calcium Carbide can cause cancer.
The medical expert warned that the fruits artificially ripened with calcium carbide are not good for consumption because such chemicals used in ripening the fruits contain radio-active elements, adding that people who are exposed to Carbide are likely to come up with lungs cancer.
He said a research was also conducted in a factory where workers are exposed to Carbide where the findings revealed that such workers come-up with lungs cancer after prolong exposure.
He noted that prolong exposure to both silicon and calcium carbide causes cancer.
He advised that fruits exposed to such chemicals should be washed with running water for about two to five minutes before consumption. He added that fruits such as mango should be peeled after washing before consumption.
He, however, advocated that government should design a national policy to stop artificial ripening of fruits and implement such policy when enacted properly, and in the same vein urged the National Orientation Agency and other key stakeholders to sensitise the public on the best ways to identify such fruits and health implications of consuming the fruits.