Artificial ripening of fruits with calcium carbide has continued in the country exposing consumers to high risk of developing cancer, kidney and heart diseases, Daily Trust reports.
Farmers and fruit dealers are in a hurry to meet the huge national demand for fruits especially mango, banana, plantain and oranges and as result they freely resort to the use of calcium carbide.
Calcium carbide is used in metal cutting and welding as such the consumption of fruits artificially ripened using this chemical compound can cause serious health problems.
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) warned Nigerians recently to shun consumption of fruits ripened with calcium carbide.
However, investigations across the country have revealed substantial application of the chemical to force-ripen fruits by farmers and fruit sellers.
Zuba International Fruit Market located along Abuja-Kaduna Expressway, and Mararaba – a densely populated suburb of Abuja under Nasarawa State – are the biggest fruits markets that supply the FCT.
These markets receive fruits supplies from all parts of the country – pineapple, pawpaw, banana/plantain from Edo, Ondo and Kwara; oranges, mangoes mainly from Benue and Nasarawa and watermelon mainly from the far northern.
At Zuba International Market, reporters, who posed as fruit dealers discovered that it was hard to find fruits (mostly mangoes, oranges and bananas) that are free of calcium carbide in the market.
Posing as buyers, the reporters insisted on the ones that did not have carbide application, but were told that it was difficult to come by, except the few ones that grew in the wild.
One seller, who wouldn’t want his name mentioned, said the application of the chemical was done by the farmers or sellers. The reporter spoke with six sellers, who confirmed the application of the chemicals on fruits and the evidence was all around them.
Daily Trust also found calcium carbide sellers that have positioned themselves strategically by the spots where fruits are sold to easily attract customers – mostly those buying unripe fruits to prepare for sale in Abuja city.
Two of the sellers told this reporter that most of the buyers in the markets are people using it to fast-ripe fruits they sold in the city. A woman, Mrs James, who sells the chemicals where banana and plantain are sold said: “It is a very dangerous chemical. It can kill human beings.”
Asked how she managed to keep her children safe from it, she said: ”I don’t take it home. I keep it in the shop.”
Sharing the knowledge of different techniques of application, Mrs James said it could be spread on the fruits and then washed or the chemical placed in the middle of the gathered fruits and properly covered and that this way the ripening will be fast tracked.
She however noted that the chemicals is widely used only on banana and mangoes, adding that she is not aware if some applied it to oranges and pawpaw.
Malam Yunusa who sells fruits along Nnamdi Azikwe Express way, Kaduna said.
“Banana are mostly ripened with heat because we hardly wait for them to get ripe naturally. If you pluck down the ripe branches of banana, before you get them to the market it will get rotten.
“The heat in the car that conveys the bananas to the market is what ripens it. Sometimes women use leather or nylon to cover the unripe banana for about three days to get it ripe.”
He noted that, “For oranges, you don’t hide it or cover it before it ripe. Oranges are mostly plucked before they get ripe completely. If you allow them to ripe completely on the trees the moment they fall down, they get rotten before reaching the market.”
Asked if he was aware of the use of carbide to ripen fruits, he said, “I am not aware if other people use other method differently to ripen their fruits as for me I use only this method.”
Bello Idris Dallaji, a mango farmer said “What we usually do is to pluck the unripe mangoes down from the trees and cover them with their leaves at same spot for about four to fivedays.
“Mangoes don’t like too much heat that is why we keep it in the open around the tree and cover them with the same leaves from the trees, although there are other people who add ashes to the leaves to make the mangoes get ripe quickly.”
At Kano’s biggest fruit market situated at Na’ibawa Yan Lemo, investigation revealed that recently authorities of the market had drawn the attention of the state’s ministry of health on the alleged harmful ripen methods and also the sales of fruits ripened through the harmful methodologies.
According to a member of the market’s board of trustees, Alhaji Rabi’u Isah Yan Lemo, officials in the fruit’s market have deviced measures to tackle harmful ripening of fruits adding that, they are always at alert to bring to book any erring businessman found.
A panel beater, Mr Kamoru Hassan in Oshodi, Lagos said carbide is used in generating fire for welding. He said “It is a very poisonous and powerful item. It comes in various colours, sometimes white, silver or chocolate in colour. If mixed with oil, it stays strong as a stone for a whole year, if not; it melts into a powder-like substance in no time.”
The panel beater said he was aware of the use of carbide by fruit sellers, especially plantain and banana sellers to hasten the duration the fruit ripens. He however noted that if there was a cut on the fruits that was ripened with carbide, anyone consuming such would be consuming poison.
Consumers’ lives in danger
Reacting, Mr Jimoh Abubakar, spokesman of NAFDAC in a phone interview with a reporter, noted that using artificial ripening agent, calcium carbide, could cause kidney failure, liver cirrhosis and heart failure.
He said the carcinogenic substance is harmful to humans, which warranted NAFDAC to warn Nigerians of its negative consequences.
“We are not saying using calcium carbide is the single responsible factor for these ailments but it’s a contributory factor.
“Fruits are being eaten all over the country, so it’s been used everywhere because there are certain fruits that are seasonal in the North and some in the South, so people that don’t have patience quickly want to harvest and sell and make money,” Abubakar said.
He however advised Nigerians on signs to look out for in distinguishing artificially ripened fruits from naturally ripened ones.
Signs to look out for
According to Abubakar, the ultimate way of detecting a fruit that has been artificially ripened using calcium carbide is by laboratory analysis, but that an ordinary person could distinguish artificially ripened fruits from naturally ripe ones by observing some brownish dark spots on naturally ripe fruits, which are absent on artificially ripened ones.
Secondly, he stated that, “Artificially ripened ones may have some powdery substances being left over because at times they don’t wash them very well. They are also smooth and glittery so those are just the simple ways.”
He pointed out that NAFDAC was sensitising the general public on the use of calcium carbide because it is killing people indirectly, adding that some of its users were using it out of ignorance.
“We are trying to alert all Nigerians; watch me I watch you. So by the time we are able to police the environment, those who are doing it will be pricked by their conscience and know they are doing something very bad,” he said.
It can cause cancer – Expert
Dr Mustapha Bature, Clinical Mentor, Kebbi State Primary Health Care Development Agency, warned that consumption of fruits such as mango, banana, pawpaw and plantain, artificially ripen by Calcium Carbide could cause cancer.
When Daily Trust requested an interview with him, Bature referred a correspondent to an earlier explanation on the issue. He said fruits artificially ripened with calcium carbide are not good for consumption because such chemicals used in ripening the fruits contain radio-active elements, that can cause.