Battle against food grain contaminants gets boost in Kaduna

• Partner trains 28,000 value chain players in three-year project
• Calls on other flour mills, feed millers, breweries to join the train

As the country is concerned about increasing food production to feed about 200 million Nigerians adequately and reducing the burden of importation, a consortium of the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID), Nestle Nigeria and their implementing partner, Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), is also actively concerned about not only the tonnes of food produced, but also their safety and wholesomeness.

Food grain contaminants, especially aflatoxin, fumonisins and aluminum, have been pinpointed as factors in serious health issues such as cancer, immune system suppression and stunted skeletal growth in infants.To minimise contamination and ensure safety of food, farmers, grain aggregators, traditional rulers and input dealers are being trained on good farming, post-harvest and storage good practices to minimise high levels of contaminants, including aluminum, found in most grains in the country.

Kaduna State becomes the pilot state on account of being the largest maize producer in the country, with the project interfacing and educating about 28,000 stakeholders in the grain value chains.

The Feed the Future Nigeria and Nestle Maize Quality Improvement partnership is a project being implemented by CNFA and revolving around enhancing quality, safety and transparency in Nigeria’s grain supply chain through a whole-of-supply-chain approach.

The objective is to improve agricultural practices of small-scale farmers and farmers’ associations, thereby enhancing relationship along the value chain, increasing their sales of maize and soybeans in Kaduna State by decreasing the levels of aflatoxins, fumonisins and aluminum.

The project aims at increasing the quality and quantity of maize and soybeans supply to Nestle by about 24,000 small-holder farmers. To meet this, the project team works on its design by training the stakeholders on how to reduce the contaminants. The targeted stakeholders in the maize and soybeans value chain are farmers, aggregators, other supply chain intermediaries and agro-input suppliers.

To this end, the project team works with volunteers, especially extension workers and National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members by building their capacity to work with small-scale farmers. The project uses mobile testing kits for determining the level of contaminants in grains of farmers and aggregators; and it provides Nestle grain suppliers with the skills and knowledge necessary to monitor the quality and safety of grains they purchase, store and supply.
The project is raising awareness among the general populace about the contaminants and their decontamination process through a mass media campaign using local radio programmes targeting low-literate farmers and consumers.

The contaminants
The major contaminants posing food safety threats are mycotoxins, and specifically they were mentioned above. They cause losses, the losses are measured in reduced crop yields, lower quality, reduced animal performance, reproductive capabilities and increased disease incidence.

Mycotoxin contamination of cereals and grains has raised worry about food safety as these foods are not only eaten directly but are also used in production of various forms of indigenous foods and drinks like tuwo, ogi, kunu, donkwa, and masa.

The most worrisome issue is that these contaminants are not destroyed by cooking and processing temperatures, prompting concerns about long-term effects of chronic exposure, such as distortion of the hormone balance, suppression of the immune system and the ability of certain mycotoxins to cause cancer.Aflatoxins are the commonest mycotoxins. They are poisonous chemicals produced by certain mold fungi. They reside in our soil and dead decaying organic matter. Over 20% of maize are affected.

Another mycotoxins of interest in this project is fumonisins. Group of mycotoxins produced by fusarium spp. 28 different types: most commonly contaminated crop. Exposure causes toxic effects in livestock’s growth, productivity and agribusiness profitability. Carcinogenic to humans. Fusarium growth and mycotoxin production are mainly affected by water activity, temperature, and atmospheric composition. Nutritional factors such as kernel endosperm and nitrogen sources also play an important role.

Aluminum is another contaminant of interest in this project. Aluminum toxicity is a major factor limiting crop productivity in many acidic soils throughout the tropics and subtropics. Contamination of food with soil, that typically contains 5 to 10% AI can significantly increase the al content of the food. The primary source is the natural content of food caused by uptake from the geologic surrounding during growth and is for all practical purposes unavoidable. The secondary source is the primary content plus any possible contamination from aluminum articles that come into contact with food and additives as well as veterinary drugs, fertilizer, other agro-chemicals and the air.

Unlike vitamins, minerals and trace elements, the human body does not need aluminum, for it accumulates in the kidney, brain, lungs, liver and thyroid where it competes with calcium for absorption and can affect skeletal mineralisation. And in infants, it can slow growth.

Project implementation
While presenting an update on the project during a stakeholders’ forum in Zaria, Kaduna State last week, the executive partner, CNFA, led by Professor Damian Chikwendu, said the approximately-$2-million project (June 2017 to June 2020) is part of the corporate social responsibility and development agendas, with particular interest in the safety of food through the value chains.

“The overall objective of this project,” Professor Chikwendu said, “is to improve agricultural practices of smallholder farmers and farmers’ associations, thereby enhancing relationships among actors in the value chain, increasing their sales of maize and soybeans and improving the health of rural communities through consumption of safe products.”

The project Team Leader said practices of some value chain actors that contribute to the high level of contamination of grains include poor land clearing; non-treatment of seeds, making them susceptible to insect attacks spreading mycotoxins; poor plant spacing; planting before full rainfall stability, thereby exposing mature grains to rainfalls and harvesting while the in the middle of the rain.

Other abnormal practices include uprooting of soybeans instead of cutting; harvesting of both moldy and good grains together; dropping harvested grains on bare soil; drying grains on the fields and by roadsides; non-use of tarpaulins; exposing grains to harmattan dust during drying and improper use of aluminum-based fumigants.

CNFA also reported that agro-input dealers and commercial grain storage facilities do not know active ingredients in pesticides they sell; do not have good storage facilities; store seeds on bare floor and sell expired and adulterated pesticides.

Other poor practices aggravating contamination are non-checking of the relative humidity of warehouses where grains are stored; wrong use of fumigants; buying ungraded grains and non-testing of grains buy major aggregators.

To decontaminate grains produced annually and ensure food safety, CNFA has been training the value chain players on field clearing, land preparation and monitoring of soil salinity; methods of detecting and quantifying aflatoxins; seed storage preparation and planting; Aflasafe application; proper use of pesticides; handling and application of fertilizer; major pests and diseases of maize and soybeans spreading mycotoxins and dealing with counterfeit and illegal agricultural inputs.

Prof. Chikwendu highlighted major challenges as non-payment of premium price for high quality graded grains as a disincentive to farmers and aggregators; poor security in the state; unsustainable use of volunteers, among others.He recommended the use of government extension workers; working with the government to establish and implement grades and standards for grains.

The CNFA leader also called on other food processors, feed millers, breweries, farmers and aggregators, as well as the government at the national level to take food safety seriously by doing the needful, including awareness creation about minimising the level of contamination in food grains and emphasis on produce grading with premium prices.

Project beneficiaries speak on impact
Mr Ayowole Owolabi, representing DABOL Nigeria Ltd, a commercial grain aggregating company in Zaria, said progress had been recorded in the efforts to reduce food contamination. “Training in how to identify and test for contaminants has helped us a lot. In 2017, we had about 36 per cent rejection of our supplies, but in 2018, as a result of the impact of the training, we had zero rejection from Nestlé. In 2019, we are also working towards and we are optimistic that we will have zero rejection of our grains,” Owolabi said.

He said the firm had acquired aflatoxin test kits these had been helping because tests were conducted on grains before delivery by out-growers and other farmers. Tests are also conducted on the grains before onward delivery to Nestle.

“It is very important to pass this knowledge to our farmers. We visit, train and show them signs of aflatoxins and other contaminants. CNFA has been trying in this regard by sending staff to our farmers to educate them on how to reduce or eliminate contamination of the grains,” he added.

Adeoluwa Michael Adesola, General Manager, Adefunke-Desh Nigeria, while sharing his experience on the improvement project, “We aggregate produce and cultivate grains. We supply different kinds of grains to industrial users. We really thank USAID, Nestle and CNFA for organising the training and sensitisation for us and farmers on good farm, post-harvest and storage management systems.” He urged all farmers in the country to embrace right farming practices and use right seeds, chemicals, fertliser, ensuring they put the grains on tarpaulins while harvesting.

“They should not put the grains on the bare soil to avoid cross-contamination of the grains. We have also made the farmers to realise that moldy grains are very injurious to health. Farmers should harvest at the right time, avoid rehydration and store properly after harvest,” he advised. He too added that “In the past, we had several rejections because of aflatoxin contamination. But since the programme came on board, we have seen drastic improvement in the quality and safety of the grains. The rejection level now is not yet zero but more than 95 per cent.

Another Kano-based medium-scale aggregator for Nestle, Murtar Yakubu, Managing Director of MIRAJ Nigeria Ltd, said, “We have made tremendous progress. We are working with groups of farmers attached to CNFA and up to cultivation stage. We have been able to educate them how to harvest grains and how to store properly.

“Since the CNFA began the training with our growers, we have not had any rejection. But before then, we had rejections of up to 45 per cent from Nestle. But it is down to almost zero now.”He suggested farmers in Nigeria should embrace these good practices that the CNFA is advocating, adding, “We have to go back to the drawing board and do it the way it is done in the western world. There should be no food contamination.”

Salisu Sanni, a local grain store owner dealing in maize and soybeans, said through the sensitisation by CNFA, he now uses tarpaulins to dry his grains and outsources the bigger harvests to commercial grain operators for winnowing and storage.

Alhaji Lawal Abu, a community leader in Zaria, lamented the abuse of preservatives, urging stakeholders and the government to also focus on preventing or minimizing abnormal applications of preservative chemicals on grains. Mrs. Sarah, a teacher cultivating about three hectares of land, urged the stakeholders to extend the sensitization to schools, churches, and mosques.

Source: The Guardian

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