By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja
As most agricultural commodities continue to face challenges of rejection in the international market, stakeholders in the agricultural sector, Tuesday, commended an agro-chemical giant, HarvestField Industries Limited, for manufacturing Aflasafe to salvage maize production from the deadly infection called aflatoxins.
The commendation was made during the kick-off of one-day workshop on ‘Scaling Solutions to Control Aflatoxin in Nigeria’s Crop Value Chain-Test Results under the CBN-ABP 2020 Wet Season Project’held in Abuja.
Declaring the workshop open, the Director, Federal Department of Agriculture, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Karima Babangida, represented by Head of Nutrition, Crop Protection and Food Safety in the Ministry, Dr Oyeleke Razak, lauded the passion and commitment by HarvestField and IITA to tackle the menace of aflatoxin that has led to the death of Nigerians and stunted growth of children under five, whereby increasing liver cancer cases in the country.
Aflatoxins are poisonous chemicals produced by Aspergillus flavus and A.parasiticus (molds). The molds reside in the soil and dead, decaying organic matter and from there reach the crops. Animal feeds, Maize, Groundnut, Sorghum, Cassava, Pepper and Cotton Seeds are susceptible and can be infected both at pre-and post harvest.
Effects of aflatoxin in humans, animal health and agro-produce trade include liver diseases, including cancer; causes stunting and growth retardation in children; suppresses the immune system; causes abnormal swelling of stomach; depending on the dose, it can cause death; and effect on trade through produce rejection.
Babangida said: “All powerful nations of this world derive their strength from the ability to feed their citizens, and that is the reason on the appealing that food and nutrition security should be topmost on the agenda of the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
“And we are here today to discuss this very important subject, scaling up aflaxtoxin solutions in Nigerian crop value chains.
“The immediate result expected for this workshop is that we have improved food safety in Nigeria, and you cannot talk of nutrition and food safety because they are two sides of a coin.
“If you don’t have food safety you don’t have nutrition so that is why is of utmost importance that we need to rally round the effort of IITA and HarvestField in proferring solution to this menace of aflatoxin contamination in our value chains.
“The effort of HarvestField will yield jobs and create wealth for Nigeria, and above all it will lead to an improved health and productivity.”
According to her it is topmost on the agenda of Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to support Nigerian farmers to produce maize that is aflatoxin-free through the use of the “technology developed by HarvestField that is Aflasafe.
“Aflasafe is wonderful, and Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is supporting farmers to have this Aflasafe free of charge so it is kudos to the Minister of Agriculture, Sabo Nanono because it is a great effort, but you need to do more in terms of awareness, support so you get rid of the menace of Aflatoxin.”
In a goodwill message, the National President, Maize Association of Nigeria, MAAN, Dr Bello Abubakar, commended the innovation of HarvestField for saving the maize industry from aflatoxin which was introduced to them by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, which had been given farmers free aflasafe to boost production and make profit.
According to Abubakar in about 5 million registered members in MAAN are doing well in the production of the commodity which was predicted that production as in 2014 it was 8.5 million metric tonnes, but from 2015-2020 the total production is over 20 million metric tonnes.
“In our production for maize, the issue of aflatoxin is a very critical issue that has taken our production, after the prodcution and in our supply most of the processors are complaining of aflatoxin in relation to our maize we are producing in Nigeria.
“So there was a time right from the beginning most of our farmers don’t know what is aflatoxin is, it was later HarvestField just came up with this solution of aflasafe that will confront aflatoxin contamination of maize we now realise and know that really there is a way that will have a solution to that problem that our processors have been complaining about.
“We also understand that it is an international acceptable requirement for maize production in the world to be aflatoxin-free maize, and how can we get aflatoxin-free maize it is only by using aflasafe.
“From the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, they started calling our attention on how we will use aflasafe. For the past four years the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development are providing aflasafe to our farmers free of charge for us to use it in order for our farmers to understand the potency and usage of aflasafe.
“When we started using aflasafe, companies that were complaining are now coming back to us to use our maize because they know that we are using aflasafe.
“Aflasafe also boost our production, and also to prevent the importation of maize into Nigeria because what they need is aflatoxin-free maize and because of the aflasafe we are using we are producing aflatoxin-free maize in Nigeria.
“I thank HarvestField for providing this solution to us as maize farmers if not we will just continue producing and say we don’t have standard requirement for production, and if produce they will not but in order for them to continue importing maize.
“We appreciate your effort for helping our farmers, and they are now aware of this product, and also appreciate the Federal Ministry of Agrculture for the free provision of aflasafe, and we will ensure all our farmers make use of our product, and we commend the Governor of CBN for his support for our farmers.”
Meanwhile, the Director General, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, Mojisola Adeyeye, represented by Assistant Director, Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, NAFDAC, Anyanwu Felicitas, announced that, “In as much as we are talking about export we ourselves need to be safe, and on this note I want to say that NAFDAC have an already accredited micro-toxin laboratory where you can analyse aflatoxin.”
And Felicitas also added that, “And NAFDAC is ever ready to support in helping out in ensuring that our foods are safe for export and our personal consumption.”
In presenting the journey of HarvestField Industries, where it is and where it is heading to, the Managing Director, HarvestField, Martins Awofisayo, said the company has invested $5 million on its ultra-modern and largest agro-chemical factory in Africa sitting on eight hectares of land in Ogun State.
Awofisayo declared that aflasafe is now the solution to aflatoxin in most of the agricultural value chain, but needs support to completely eradicate aflatoxin with an enabling environment that would protect the lives of Nigerians and farmers’ stake.
He said: “I can see that the issue of aflatoxin is already settled by the people and gathering that we have here today.
“Everyone here knows about aflatoxin but what have we been doing about it, effort made, and a lot of messages from the goodwill and a lot said on the solution that have been found just like we do not have vaccine for COVID-19 what would have happened.
“A solution has been found to control and mitigate aflatoxin in our food, crop value chain but there ijs nothing we are doing about it.
“Millions of people have been traced to the consumption of aflatoxin infected food to having liver cancer, 4 million children are suffering from stunted growth, and these are the issues and why we are gathered here today that shows we are serious about it, and now is a great opportunity for us to do a roadmap after today.
“Aflatoxin is a challenge we have taken on ourselves, and we have seen the gap and we want to fill it. Our farmers are suffering form the economic angle, they will borrow money to farm and they will not have money to sell, and our children are also suffering, and anywhere we go you mention aflatoxin people shiver.
“In Rwanda, they have declared that you cannot cultivate any maize whether as smallholder farmer or big farmer with the use of aflasafe and it is a criminal offence. How are we going to do that in Nigeria? We have the wherewithal to do that.”
Speaking on the background of the company he said, “We are a 100 per cent private sector, indigenous company in Nigeria, and I can tell you what HarvestField has been doing matches anywhere in the world.
“We have come to showcase that what they do in the Western world we in Nigeria can do better and that is what HarvestField has been doing.
“Yes, we may not be connected to the high places in Nigeria but we are doing silent revolution in agriculture and that is what brought to IITA.
“It was in 2016 that we got to know about a bid that was thrown up by IITA for private sector to come and commercialize the innovation they have developed, and we bidded for it but was a rigorous process and eventually HarvestField was chosen to be the manufacturer and licenser in Nigeria.
“We have built the largest agro-chemical manufacturing plant in Nigeria and largest in Africa in terms of capacity, size and was built on a eight hectares of land, fully developed and no one factory like this in Africa, and kudos to the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, they supported us through the cash loan and this is what we have now, and we are almost paying off the cash loan.
“And in this factory we produce over 41 million liters on a single shift so if we can double our shift to two then we can do about 82 million litters per annum, and we have been the ones supporting the Anchor Borrowers now, we are producing for the anchor borrower programme in cassava, maize, groudnut and others.
“This is the experience we brought to bear in handling of aflasafe. We have passion and that is to make HarvestField any agric input our farmers may need. Right from the bottles in agro-chemical we them produce in Nigeria, and 70 per cent of our raw materials are sourced locally and increased the value chain.
“We have spent $5 million on the largest agro-chemical factory in Africa and yet we do not have the enabling environment compared to other countries.”
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