Farmers petition Environment Minister over shea butter ‘contamination’

Some farmers in Wa in the Upper West Region have petitioned the Minister for Environment, Science and Technology, Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng to stop a malaria control spraying programme which they say is contaminating their groundnuts and shea butter.

The farmers who export organic certified shea butter attribute the contamination to the spraying of a chemical (pirimiphos-methyl) as part of the malaria control programme funded by the Global Fund which they say is “threatening small industries and livelihood of people and households in the areas concerned.”

The petitioners say the spraying programme is negatively affecting the livelihoods of over 3000 women in various communities including Wechiau, Guli and Kperisi.

“For some time now, these companies have been recording high level of contamination of pirimiphos-methyl in their shea butter products exported. This has negative impact on the quantity of export of organic certified shea butter and the businesses of the company.

“An investigation into the situation traced the source of the contamination to the residual effect of spraying primiphos in the locality as part of the malaria control progamme of Global Fund implemented by AGAMAL Malaria Control Programme Limited of AngloGold Ashanti,” the petition signed by Georgina Koomson on behalf of the farmers, said.  

The farmers say efforts to meet managers of the progamme to resolve the issue have proved futile and are demanding the intervention of the Prof. Frimpong Boateng.

“We wish therefore to request your good office to intervene ‘as soon as possible’ with the view of finding amicable solutions for the current situation,” the petition said.  

“So far, over 5 million cedis have been recorded in lost revenue due to inability to export or rejection of exported products. The last export consignment of Ideal farms of 22 metric tonnes in December 2016, for instance, was downgraded by 50 percent by importers due to high levels of residue. This led to a loss of revenue of 11,000 Euro and two more containers are still in contamination,” it added.

An accompanying letter to the traditional leaders and people of the Guli Community signed by their chief Musah Alhassan said: “these dangerous chemicals contaminate our food, our Agric products and the effect of the health of our people.”

Another letter by the Paramount chief of Wechiau, Naa Imoru Gomah Nandon said: “for some years now, organic shea collected by over 2000 women in the Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary has suffered contamination through the indoor residual spraying activities which have deprived them of vital income for those periods.

They fear this could lead to a loss of the organic certification which will deprive the sanctuary of 90 percent of revenue which goes to provide scholarship and other social amenities.”

The Upper West Regional Director of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture Kweku Menkah Fodjour has confirmed the contamination which is leading to the rejection of the shea butter but says the contamination levels are permissible and thus not harmful.

“The USA Food and Drug Authority’s permissible level of chemical contamination is 3 parts per million (ppm). In Ghana, it is 5ppm. For the European Food Safety Authority, their permissible limit is 5 ppm.

“The levels that were found in the allegedly contaminated shea butter were 2.8ppm. Which is still below even the United States permissible limits. So that makes the claim that the shea butter is contaminated false,” he explained.

He is thus advising the organic shea butter exporters to review their operations so their products don’t get contaminated by chemicals and result in rejection.

The company undertaking the spraying, AngloGold Ashanti Malaria Limited (AGAMAL) says it cannot be held responsible for the contamination as a market survey has shown it could be happening from other sources.

A statement signed its Public Relations Superintendent, Alberta J. Gordon-Bosomtwe said: “there are indications that the contamination is not from only Pirimiphos- methyl, and in cases where it is present, other chemicals were found to be present in shea nuts and other food samples.

“The market survey revealed that agro-chemicals sold and used in the agricultural sector also contained Pirimiphos Methyl as well as other chemicals.”

“The strict adherence to operational standards of procedures such as; exempting the spraying of houses with organic stickers, increased supervision in the field and equipment pre-checks that characterize the activities of AGAMAL compared to the indiscriminate use of Agro- chemicals, that has been proven to contain Pirimiphos-methyl, shows how unlikely our operations could be the source of contamination,” the statement added.

 

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