The significance of food processing cannot be overstated, as it directly impacts our health and safety. Consuming improperly processed food poses a grave risk to our well-being and even our lives. This prompts us to inquire into the methods of food processing in Nigeria, be they traditional or industrial, and their repercussions on people’s health and the nation’s ecosystem.
Food processing encompasses the conversion of agricultural products into various forms of food. It spans from the basic act of grinding grains into raw flour to the more intricate industrial processes used in producing convenience foods. In Nigeria, traditional methods such as open-air sun-drying are still prevalent among food producers, while more developed nations employ industrial techniques like dehydrators. The difference in quality and packaging of the final products is striking.
To illustrate the state of food processing in our country, we can examine two examples. In some regions of Nigeria, palm oil is still produced using the labour-intensive leg-marching method, with workers sweating profusely during the process. This archaic method raises concerns about the hygiene of the end product. Recently, a seemingly innocent social media post by a young woman ignited a heated debate: “Which palm oil is the best in Nigeria; Yoruba, Igbo, or Akwa Ibom palm oil?” This discussion revolved around the varying methods of palm oil processing in different regions of Nigeria. While some regions have adopted advanced processing methods, others still rely on outdated techniques, highlighting the need to revisit our food processing practices in this day and age.
Another example can be found in cassava flake processing, where products are often openly displayed along roadsides for drying, exposing them to dust and harmful microorganisms. These instances demonstrate that Nigeria’s food processing practices not only hinder our foreign exchange earnings but also jeopardize our health by exposing us to avoidable diseases. Furthermore, certain food processing methods, which may involve burning, harm the environment, leading to severe ecological consequences. To address this, substantial changes are imperative.
In an era when advanced nations are transforming food waste and other byproducts into high-quality products through recycling, Nigeria must refine its food processing practices. Outdated methods must yield to contemporary techniques. This necessitates collaboration between Nigeria’s scientific and technological communities and the rural population, who produce over 90% of the nation’s food. To break away from tradition, rural dwellers must receive training and retraining on modern methods. As the saying goes, “If you don’t train them, don’t blame them”.
The government plays a pivotal role in enhancing food processing in Nigeria. Comprehensive policies must be formulated to ensure consistent improvement. A nation that entrusts food production and processing to unskilled individuals is bound for failure. Therefore, rural areas, the primary sources of our food, should witness technological infrastructure development. In an effort to enhance food quality, 21st-century processing equipment should be brought to these rural areas.
However, the government alone cannot bear this responsibility. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) may be the solution. Businesses with interests in food production and processing could establish their plants in rural areas, either to take over processing or to demonstrate superior methods to the local population.
There is a pressing need for us to revolutionise our food processing techniques. The days of labour-intensive palm oil production and open-air cassava flake drying must come to an end. We are living in the 21st century, not the Stone Age. Technology is at our disposal, and we must utilize it in all aspects of life. Experts within the fields of science, technology and innovation must step in to enhance the quality of our food. If we truly are what we eat, then it is incumbent upon us to take action and safeguard our health from preventable diseases that are diminishing life expectancy in Nigeria.
Currently, life expectancy at birth in Nigeria hovers around 61.79 years. To be more specific, this figure is 60 years for males and 64 years for females. Regrettably, Nigeria’s life expectancy at birth ranks among the lowest in Africa and the world. However, we have the potential to improve these statistics by optimising our food processing practices and preserving our ecosystem. It is time for Nigeria to embark on a transformative journey in food processing, one that ensures both our well-being and a sustainable future.