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In Nigeria, Artificial Fruits Ripening Puts Lives at Risk

In several markets across Nigeria, the vibrant hues of fruits beckon enticingly to consumers. Yet behind the colourful allure lies a growing concern that threatens public health and undermines trust in the agricultural sector – it is the widespread use of artificial ripening agents.

There’s a troubling reliance on chemicals such as calcium carbide, a practice that has seen a meteoric rise due to the pressures of demand and the drive for profit. Calcium carbide is popular among some fruit vendors for its ability to rapidly ripen fruits like bananas, mangoes, and plantains. 

However, this substance is fraught with health risks, including the potential to cause cancer, as well as respiratory and digestive issues.

Concerned about the menace and the risks attached, Edward Pwajok, a former lawmaker representing Jos South/Jos East Federal Constituency at the National Assembly, moved a motion highlighting the prevalence of fruit ripening with calcium carbide in April 2018. 

Aside from calling for the prosecution of artificially-ripened fruits sellers, the House of Representatives urged the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to carry out massive sensitisation of the public.

Despite this, artificially-ripened fruit sellers remain adamant. 

“I normally buy green unripe mango from the market and put it inside a special leather in a box and store it for four to five days for it to ripen. Sometimes if we need ripe plantain urgently, we apply carbide and it takes only one day for it to be ready for us to sell,” said a mango seller, who spoke to our reporter under anonymity at Gawo-Nama market in Sokoto.

Confirming this ugly act during NAFDAC media sensitisation workshop on dangers of drug hawking and ripening of fruits with calcium carbide in Abuja in August 2023, Professor Moji Adeyeye, urged Nigerians to desist from patronising fruits ripened with calcium carbide to avoid endangering their health.

“Fruits provide the body with micronutrients that improve immunity and prevent diseases among other benefits. Fruit ripening is a unique aspect of plant development, which makes the fruit edible, softer, sweeter, more palatable, nutritious, and attractive.

“However, the consumption of fruits such as mango, banana, plantain, guava, orange, grape, etc or any other fruits ripened with calcium carbide is dangerous to health,” she said.

She added that artificially-ripened fruits could result in sleeping disorders, mouth ulcers, skin rashes, kidney problems and possibly even cancer.

“I have mandated some of my directors and support staff to take these campaigns to the nooks and crannies of this country. We are confident of winning the war against these two hydra-headed public health menaces.”

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