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Ghana: Lack of storage facilities, chemical abuse affecting food safety

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The lack of storage facilities is a major challenge confronting farmers in the Wa West District of the Upper West Region.

It has compelled farmers in the district to resort to storing their farm produce in awkward places including their bedrooms.

This also puts their health and that of their family members at risk as they often use poisonous agrochemicals like Topstoxin, which contains aluminium phosphide as its active ingredient in storing their grains.

Topstoxin, is a fumigant tablet approved for use in Ghana by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and according to experts, it can cause the death of any person, who inhales significant quantities.

The Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) has attributed the death of three children in April 2018, to excessive inhalation of the chemical which was sprayed by one of the parents in their home to get rid of cockroaches.

Jacob Baezine, a 51-year-old peasant farmer from Guo, a community in the Wa West District is one of the farmers who have been using the chemical in storing grains in his bedroom.

Even though guidelines for usage have been provided in the product label, he cannot read and claims he uses his own sense of judgment as to what quantity to use in preserving his grains, something that could lead to abuse.

“Anytime I use the chemical to store grains in my bedroom, I have to sleep outside for three to five days to allow the power of the smell to subside; else I feel dizzy each time I stay inside the room for long”, he said.

“I know the chemical poses danger to I and my family’s health, but I have no choice because I have no other place to store my produce to avoid losses”, he added.

Jacob insists that when he applies the chemical to his grains, the poison becomes ineffective after six months – after which the produce is safe for human consumption.

Asked what he would do when he is confronted with a serious problem and his stored grain which is not yet up to the six months is his only source of hope, Jacob was frank “I will send it like that to the market and sell for money to solve my problem”.

Jacob and many of his colleagues are potentially flooding various market centers with unsafe foodstuff, thereby risking the health of unsuspecting consumers.

This raises serious questions about the knowledge of farmers on the right application o these agrochemicals to avoid abuse, an issue Mr. Kwesi Wih, Upper West Regional Plant Protection Officer of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) agreed with.

He said Topstoxin is a registered product in Ghana but like every agrochemical, it could have potential harmful effects on its users if they fail to follow the guidelines for usage provided by the manufacturer.

There is therefore the need to make sure all farmers are well educated on the use of these potentially harmful agrochemicals in order to protect the health of both the famer and the consumer.

The lack of proper storage facilities is a major contributory factor to the massive Post Harvest Losses (PHLs) confronting Ghanaian farmers.

It is in the light of this that the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) introduced the Voice for Change Partnership (V4CP) programme to advocate for the provision of adequate storage facilities to back farmers against PHLs while guaranteeing the safety of food stuff.

Mr. Emmanuel Wullo Wullingdool, Policy Officer, Ghana Trades and Livelihood Coalition (GTLC), one of the Civil Society Organisations (CSOS) implementing the V4CP programme in the Upper West Region said PHL could be quantified in two ways – qualitative and quantitative losses.

He explained that quantitative loss has to do with the physical loss of the produce right from the point of harvest till it reached the final consumer whereas qualitative loss relates to the nutritional value of the produce lost as a result of poor storage.

Food safety according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) “is the reasonable certainty that no harm will result from intended uses under the anticipated conditions of consumption”.

Mr. Wullingdool said there was need for technical knowledge to meet some standards so that it would not become poison at the end.

“Advocating for food safety falls under the broader scope of what we are doing under the V4CP project”, he stated.

“PHL is not only a cost to the farmer but also to the entire country. Whatever resources that have been expended in producing the produce, efforts must be made to protect it from being ruined by rodents, the weather and the environment or through chemical abuse.”

The GTLC Policy Officer called on government and other relevant bodies to see to it that whatever tool or chemical available to the farmer to use to preserve food produce was safe.

Mr. Wullingdool also urged the FDA and the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) to go to the ground and ensure that all chemicals that are being used by smallholder farmers for food preservation are safe for human consumption.

He said V4CP is also advocating the use of alternative means of storage such as the Purdue Improve Crop Storage (PICs) by farmers rather than relying on chemicals which could affect the quality of the produce and put the health of the consumer at risk.

Unsafe food products cannot only cause health problems for consumers but can also kill instantly, hence the need to go to every length to prevent such foods from getting to the market or even sitting in the homes of farmers.

Consumers visit the market daily but have no means of determining unsafe foodstuff. It is therefore important for the government to make certain that all food produce brought to the market are safe, to protect the health of the people.

This can be done through the provision of proper and adequate storage facilities in every farming community to enable farmers to properly store their produce under expert advice in order to guarantee their safety while preventing losses at the level of storage.

It is important for farmers, consumers and relevant stakeholders to join the SNV V4CP campaign programme and vigorously push for the provision of improved storage facilities and less harmful agrochemicals to prevent losses and guarantee the safety of food produce.

Government should listen to the campaign by providing the right goods and services to promote food security and food safety, to safeguard the health of the population for increased productivity.

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