·Releases alternative and safe methods of artificial ripening of fruits
By Ignatius Chukwu
Few months ago, NAFDAC warned about killers of women through chemical poisoning in the form of cosmetics. Now, the Agency is warning of Merchants of Death who allegedly seek to ripen fruits faster than nature and others who hawk drugs and in the process, alter the chemical balance. The issue is, would Nigerians listen? Are the campaigns paying off? Is the reliance of the media making it more successful?
Nigerians have been urged to take their destinies in their hands by rejecting mass poisoning allegedly going on nationwide through use of calcium Carbide used in fruits ripening as well as drugs hawking.
For this reason, the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has mounted a nationwide campaign showing the citizens what is deadly about use of chemicals to ripen fruits and what is very dangerous in hawking drugs.
According to NAFDAC, what seems to amount to mass poisoning is the resort to chemical ripening of fruits which beckon on Nigerians along the roads and markets, which are said to be symptoms of arsenic and phosphorous poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, burning sensation in the chest and abdomen, thirst, problem of swallowing, burning eyes, permanent eye damage, and ulcers.
Those who chemically quicken ripening of fruits want them attractive to buyers, thinking they are helping nature to do the process of converting starch to sugar in fruits (which is what fruit ripening is).
According to NAFDAC experts, ripening brings out the fruit’s sweet and sour flavor. It decreases bitterness and astringency and softens the fruit so it’s easier to chew.
According to Leonard Omokpariola, head of NAFDAC’s Chemical Evaluation & Research said naturally ripened fruits are a good source of vitamins and minerals and play an important role in preventing vitamin C and vitamin A deficiencies.
The health benefits, he said in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, depend on how they ripened. He went further to educate on what he called climacteric and non-climacteric fruits. “Climacteric fruits are fruits that enter ‘climacteric phase’ after harvest i.e. they continue to ripen. During the ripening process the fruits emit ethylene along with increased rate of respiration. Examples include Mango, Banana, Papaya, Guava, Sapota, Kiwi, Fig, Apple, Passion fruit, Apricot, Plum, Pear.
“Non-climacteric-fruits once harvested do not ripen further. These produce very small amount of ethylene and do not respond to ethylene treatment. Examples include Orange, Mousambi, Kinnow, Grapefruit, Grapes, Pomegranate, Litchi, Watermelon, Cherry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Strawberry, Carambola, Rambutan, and Cashew.”
The expert talked about internal and external factors that make ripening happen, but warned of the danger of ripening agents such as Calcium carbide, Acetylene gas, Ethephon, Ethylene, and Ethylene glycol.
On natural processes, he said natural ripening of fruits is a physiological process, which makes them edible, tasty and nutritious. “The ripening process makes the fruit soft, increases sweetness, decreases bitterness and there are changes in colour and appearance. The natural ripening of fruits takes place only after proper maturity.”
Safe way to quicken ripening:
Showing alternative methods of quickening ripening, Omokpariola showed how Apple fruits generate safe ethylene to ripen fruits near it. He said: “Under natural conditions, ethylene, a ripening hormone produced by the plant plays a major physiological role in the ripening process.
“Ethylene treatment breaks down the green chlorophyll pigment in the exterior part of the peel and allows the yellow or orange carotenoid pigments to be expressed.
He also said using ripened fruits in an airtight container is a simple technology practiced in households to trigger ripening is to keep unripened and ripened fruits together inside an airtight container. Since the already ripened fruits release ethylene, he added, ripening will be faster.
He also mentioned the paper bag method in which he said is good for avocados, mangos, pears, plums and tomatoes!
“What you’ll need include a paper bag, an apple and/or banana. Add your fruit into a paper bag, seal it, and wait a few days! The key here is again ethylene. Ethylene is a natural gas given off by fruit that helps in ripening.
To speed things up even faster, we recommend adding in an apple or banana! These fruits give off more ethylene than other fruits and will really aid in moving the ripening process along!”
Other methods he lectured on include the flour in a bag method, the rice in a bowl method, and the linen cloth method.
He thrilled the audience when he said: “Fruit ripening is a highly coordinated, genetically programmed, and an irreversible phenomenon involving a series of physiological, biochemical, and organoleptic changes that finally lead to the development of a soft, edible and ripe fruit with desirable quality attributes.
“Starch, pectin, cellulose, and hemicelluloses are the major classes of cell wall polysaccharides that undergo modifications during ripening.”
In his keynote speech across Nigeria during the campaigns, the Director-General of NAFDAC, Moji Christianah Adeyeye, tutored the audiences about the menace of drug hawking and the determination of the Agency to totally eradicate it. “Many drug hawkers are knowingly or unknowingly merchants of death who expose essential medicines to the vagaries of inclement weather which degrade the active ingredients of the medicine and turn them to poisons thus endangering human lives.
“Most of the drugs sold by the illiterate and semi-literate drug hawkers are counterfeit, substandard or expired, and therefore do not meet the quality, safety, and efficacy requirement of regulated medicines.”
She pointed to prescription drugs also being sold by the itinerant drug hawkers who she said also hold consultation, recommend, and prescribe medicines to their gullible ‘patients’.
Adeyeye threw a bomb, saying drug hawkers were also the major distributors and suppliers of narcotic medicines to criminal networks such as armed bandits, insurgents, kidnappers and armed robbers. To her, they thus constitute serious threat to Nigeria’s national security. The hawkers were not on ground to speak for themselves but many of them usually dismiss such allegation as they claim to occupy a sensitive spot in the distribution chain.
NAFDAC DG still warned that any drug hawker arrested by NAFDAC would be prosecuted and would face a jail term; “And our enforcement officers are currently carrying out synchronized nation-wide operation. No offender will be spared from facing the full wrath of the Law. In this regard, we solicit the co-operation and support of all other law enforcement agencies, Nigerian journalists and well-meaning Nigerians in ridding the country of this harmful and shameful practice.”
She also put her voice against use of calcium carbide and other chemicals to help fruits ripen.
Media must help:
The NAFDAC campaign actually is a nationwide media mobilization and training to fight the menace.
NAFDAC is of the view that getting health correspondents across Nigeria to first understand the menace and to study the issue would help reach the 200m Nigerians that need to see things the NAFDAC way.
NAFDAC says the workshop would make every Nigerian journalist to ask: How do we use the mass media to change behavioural pattern? What kind of report can we use to make positive impact? And, what strategy of reporting system can we deploy to ensure we achieve our goals?
NAFDAC understands that the media mix; traditional media (deployed to drive mass awareness), and digital media (deployed to drive engagement). The Agency is aware that over 108m Nigerians are on the Internet as at January 2022.
NAFDAC thus knows the mass media functions of information and education; socialisation, entertainment, political awareness, cultural transmission, and persuasion.
Experts however believe that socialization role of the mass media has the greatest function as a vehicle for socialization, helping to build consensus around new culture and culture-change.
The media’s next most powerful function is said to be entertainment function because every media unit has entertainment content. Persuasion function of the mass media is seen to be the most difficult, but this is often done through socialisation and entertainment functions.
The bottom line is that NAFDAC wants the media, all media, to take national health with every seriousness and use reporting tools to communicate same.
Leonard Omokpariola clarifies all issues:
In an interview with the Port Harcourt media group at the Uyo workshop, Omokpariola said it is not every single patent medicine shop keeper that is an offender because some of them have submitted to training and operate within the rules.
He said any trained chemist shop keeper understands that drug is an essential life-saving commodity, and because drugs are saving-life commodities, they needed to be stored and distributed in the right condition that would preserve their potency and their efficacy so that when they are used, the user would have the right result.
“When drugs are distributed by pharmacists and even patent medicine stores under control and properly registered by the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), then those drugs (we can say) are in the right condition, because these are all-trained personnel. But what we are coming to speak against today is the aberration and illegal practice of hawking of drug.”
By hawking of drugs, he said, Nigerians are talking about selling drugs as if they are common commodities like biscuits, tomatoes, etc.
“Exposing drugs to vigorous atmosphere such as very high temperature, moisture, and very high humidity that could lead to the destruction of the active of the pharmaceutical ingredients is very dangerous. This includes selling of drugs in open markets.
“We frown at people hawking drugs in vehicles because it is an aberration. The reason is that these drugs and commodities are either expired or contain degraded ingredients from things such as temperature or humidity or exposure to oxidation processes. For that reason, we are now saying that those activities are very wrong and should be stopped. If we consume those drugs, they are no longer medicine, they are actually poison because active pharmaceutical ingredients are not there.
“We want complete ban on drug-hawking and it is very wrong to patronise such.”
On what penalties we may impose on those hawking drugs, he said NAFDAC position is not putting any other administrative penalty on this. “Anyone caught will be prosecuted, because it is totally illegal. Nigeria has a policy on drug distribution in place that was launched by the Federal Ministry of Health, and with that very policy in place, then it is illegal for anybody anywhere to hawk any type of drug.”
He said the Agency is calling on Nigerians that nobody should patronise the drugs hawkers, because patronising them whether it is in the village or in the city, we are actually patronising somebody that is selling poison and is going to kill.
One of the challenges facing NAFDAC he said is how to monitor them simultaneously everywhere in Nigeria. He said this workshop would help out a lot.
Another strategy for reach is thus: “We are trying to bring in members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), especially those of them in the rural areas, to collaborate with us to fight against drug hawking. NAFDAC bring the Corps members, trains them and they will join us to do the work we are doing.
“We have our enforcement unit that is set up, that carries out a lot of raids in the rural and regional areas.
The reason we are doing this workshop is to warn Nigerians on the implication of drugs hawking.”