National Pesticide Policy: Prioritising plant health as national security



Healthy plants are the essential foundation for all life on earth, as it is the key to feeding the global community, hence the need for a National Pesticide Policy that will guide and protect the handling of such important foundation of live, JOHN OBA, writes.

Plant Health

Plants are more important than they look, if the essential of food to living is to be taken seriously. Plants do not only serve as sources of 80% food for humanity but produce the oxygen we breath, that tells how serious and crucial the subject of plants health is. Healthy plants feed people and animals. 

The commonality of green plants around us seems to be eroded and lessen importance we attach to it, yet without proper attention given to plant health, it is impossible to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of bringing an end to hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Healthy plants are vital for the protection of the environment, forests and biodiversity. 

Plants are also the sources of fibre for our wears, timbre for our houses and medicine for our bodies. They are integral to our cultures, recreation and religions. 

Thus, plants resources are crucial and indispensable. They are central to food security. Every nation depends on an assortment of healthy plants to feed its populace. Without healthy plants, it is impossible to guarantee sustainable food production. This is because only healthy plants are able to thrive and produce in spite of pests and diseases and environmental stress.

Plant pests and diseases damage crops and may cause crop failure, in extreme cases. Their devastative impact leads to food scarcity, sharp increase in food prices and instability in the food market as well as the agro-allied industries. 

Indiscriminate use of pesticides 

According to experts, pesticides contaminates soil, water, turf, and other vegetation, aside the fact that it kills insects or weeds, pesticides can be toxic to a host of other organisms including birds, fish, beneficial insects, and non-target plants.

Chronic pesticide poisoning usually results from consumption of contaminated food, chemical accident in industries and occupational exposure in agriculture. It was stated that about 15,000 metric tons of pesticides comprising about 135 pesticide chemicals are imported annually into the country, these are the major causes of cancer, cardiovascular disease, dermatitis, birth defects, morbidity, impaired immune function, neurobehavioral disorder and allergy sensitization reaction. 

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In Nigeria, food test carried out on 217 different food items revealed the presence of DDT, Aldrin and Dieldrin to be above maximum allowable concentration level which ranged from 1.2-2160µg kg-1. 

Improper pesticide use had caused millions of people to frequently fall sick across the country.

Director-General, Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute, Prof. Olufemi Peters, had said Nigerian farmers and agro-based companies spend $400m annually on pesticides which makes Nigeria a home to uncontrolled market of outdated, sub-standard and unscrupulous pesticides which were mostly peddled and used by people with no real expertise on them. And this, to a very large extend, affects the health of plants hence make consumption risky and detrimental to humans.

Policy 

But the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), has revealed that the Service is on the verge of producing the draft of Nigeria’s first ever National Pesticide Policy. The National Pesticide Policy, according to the Director-General, Dr. Vincent Isegbe, would serve as the framework for regulating the use of pesticides for agricultural purposes.

“Through the implementation of that Pesticide Policy, the agency will be able to address the culture of the use of potentially toxic pesticides for the preservation of food items.

“We are collaborating with researchers in Nigerian tertiary institutions to tackle the root cause of indiscriminate use of pesticides. We are working with notable pathologists and entomologists to develop effective, organic-based bio-degradable alternatives to synthetic pesticides.

“One of the major hindrances to the export of Nigerian agricultural products is the high pesticide residues in some of the goods. We are striving to invent biopesticides that are comparable to the chemical pesticides in effect to remove this huge impediment. A couple of field trials are underway in many parts of the country to confirm the suitability of some potent candidates. The reports we have received so far indicate that we have come within the inch of the threshold of success in some of the experiments. This progress is cause for optimism. 

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“We have also conducted a wide range of Pest Surveys, covering over a dozen crops. Last year, our Pigeon Pea Pest Survey opened to Nigeria the gateway of the $10 billion Indian pigeon pea market. This year, we hope to undertake more Pest Surveys targeted at emerging commodities, from whose export Nigeria can earn big foreign exchange,” he stated recently at the formal launch of activities to herald the Year of Plant Health 2020 in Abuja.

Declaration

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) initiated the declaration of year 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH) as part of efforts to increase global awareness on the importance of healthy plants to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  This, the United Nations General Assembly, in November 2018, adopted the initiative to confirmed the centrality of plant health to the agricultural economy.

It is estimated that up to 40% of global food crops, worth $220 billion in trade of agricultural products are lost annually due to plant pests. Pests, according to reports leave millions without food to eat, with devastating impacts on food security and trade. From the other hand, Invasive alien species are responsible for the loss of biodiversity, and consequent negative effects on the environment. 

Climate change is one of emerging challenges for plant health, as it influences the movement of plant pests, weakening host plants by extreme weather conditions. New pests can be introduced into new ecosystems, with potentially disruptive impacts on agricultural productivity.  

The recent rapid movement of invasive plant pest species in different parts of the world that have had a significant impact on food security and livelihoods proves that the significant social, economic and environmental impact of pests necessitates global attention and responses.

Domesticating this in Nigeria

According to the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), about 50% of food crops are lost due to plant pests. Plant pests and diseases damage crops, reduce the availability of food and increase food prices.

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“The tomato moth (Tuta absoluta), popularly called tomato ebola; the fall armyworm of maize and the bacterial blight of cassava are some of the notable pest and disease outbreaks that devastated Nigerian farmlands and inflicted colossal losses on farmers and other stakeholders across the value chain.

“The Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service, as the competent authority on plant health and the National Plant Protection Organisation for Nigeria recognized by the FAO of the United Nations, is organising a series of events to herald the International Year of Plant Health 2020. The activities will bring together policymakers, stakeholders and the media to explore ways to raise advocacy and support for plant health policies at all levels in Nigeria.”

Speaking, Dr. Isegbe, said the implication of significant reduction in food production caused by plant pest is that less food is available to meet the dietary needs of millions of human beings. 

He said the threat of plant pests and diseases is exacerbated by transborder trade. 

“In these days of easier international movement and transportation, a wide range of plant pests and diseases are able to hitchhike to new frontiers. They are borne by the envelopes of infected fruits, crops, seeds and packaging containers. And once exotic pests and diseases are introduced to a new environment, they tend to establish quickly and spread rapidly; wrecking immense havoc on the local agricultural economy.

“It may interest you that Nigeria voted in support of the UN resolution to recognize and protect plant health. This is a token of the commitment of the government to promote plant health policy at all levels in Nigeria. 

“However, plant health is everybody’s business. All tiers of governments, the private sector and the civil society are equal stakeholders in plant health. Therefore, all of us must live up to our obligation to contribute to the development of plant health in Nigeria.



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