Organic research product breaks grain post-harvest handling barriers

The organic materials from which NSPRIDUST is made


• As NSPRI responds to calls for integrated pest management
Beans, maize, dried peppers, gingers and other food grains being contaminated and rejected in the international markets can now be better preserved as the Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI), Ilorin, Kwara State, has recorded a landmark breakthrough in post-harvest management with a research and development product it calls NSPRIDUST.

The development is different from hydrogenated inert silo developed by the institute, which is capable of holding grains without chemicals for over two years and being adopted by large-scale farmers and institutions.One of the perennial problems that farmers face is pest infestation. Pests are dangerous threats to food crops before, during and after harvests. And attempts to control pests around the world have snowballed in the misuse of chemicals on growing, maturing and ready farm products, posing threats to human health and lives.

As consumers become more conscious of the dangers the unprofessional use of pesticides pose and agitate for organically produced/preserved foods, there is need for more environmentally sustainable and health-friendly means of pest control.The product was a result of a search for safer alternatives to chemicals used as preservatives on food crops in the country, Dr Patricia Pessu, Acting Executive Director of the NSPRI, exclusively disclosed to The Guardian, and that NSPRIDUST is a Nigeria-derived Diatomaceous Earth (DE) found in some locations in the country.“Diatomite is subjected to various physical and chemical modifications by the Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI) to achieve NSPRIDUST,” she said.

Mode of action
Dr Pessu, while explaining the mode of action of the organic product, said “NSPRIDUST is non-toxic because its action is physical with no pesticide residue, an advantage over synthetic chemicals. NSPRIDUST-treated insects (e.g. weevils) die by desiccation [dehydration] after losing copious amount of water from their bodies.

“This is because the dust adsorbs/absorbs (removes) natural lipids on the surface of the insect’s cuticle. When these protective lipids (waxes) are absorbed by the dust, water leaves the body of the insect, causing death.” The process of lipid absorption, she added, occurs faster at higher temperature and lower humidity, and that “the dust is found effective as a protectant as long as there is enough quantity to be picked by the insect as it moves around in storage.”

Mode of application
Unlike other insecticides requiring heavy gadgets like knap-sack sprayers and dust blowers, the dust is easily applied by illiterate farmers and can be applied on grains meant to be stored in different storage facilities like bags and silos, and can also be used to treat empty storage facilities like warehouses and cribs before storage. Pessu disclosed that to treat 100kg of grains, grains could be divided into three big plastic basins and the 100g dust could be sprinkled equally on top of the grains in the basins.

She said wearing gloves and nose covers before mixing the powder with grains thoroughly for approximately five minutes is necessary because some people react to inhalation of any dusty particle.

“Thereafter, pour grains in the three basins together in one polypropylene (PP) or jute bag, ensure that dust adhering to the walls of the basins are pushed into the bag, and tie up the bag with twine. “Place the bag on wooden pallet for storage. Furthermore, required amount of the dust can be applied on grains as it moves through the augur/conveyor into the silo,” she described.

Economic and health benefits
A research at the University of Jos on environmental impact of pesticides usage on farmlands in Nigeria states that the invention of many chemicals after the second World War to combat pests in tropical areas had encouraged their rapid use in agriculture as the chemical industry had provided an arsenal of over half a million chemical substances into the market.

“The production of these agricultural poisons has been one of the largest growth areas in chemical industry today, such that few farms are without their store of these poisonous substances,” it stated.However, the NSPRI product, the acting executive director said, “is cost-effective and is the cheapest non-toxic and environment-friendly insecticide in Nigeria now.”It is packaged experimentally in 100g packs and this is the dose needed to treat 100kg of grains such as maize, beans, rice, sorghum and millet.

The implication for the farmer or middlemen trading in grains is that they can protect 100kg of grains with 100gm of the dust, which, in the economics of production analysis, costs about N300.Scientists who worked on the products, according to Dr Pessu, are satisfied that in the long run, “a product that would prevent deaths and health hazards associated with the consumption of grains and other farm products inappropriately preserved with toxic chemicals has been developed by the institute.”

Considering integrated pest management
Meanwhile, as the move against abnormal usage of chemical preservatives intensifies, so is the call for the adoption of the Integrated Pest Management (IPM).IPM focuses on eliminating and controlling pests with a minimal use of chemicals. It involves data collection, analysis and interpretation, which, in turn, enable a proper identification of the presence of pests and help in taking a decision on treatment plans that deter their re-emergence. Pesticides and insecticides are sparingly employed, especially only if the condition is critical.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation defines IPM as the careful consideration of all available pest control techniques and subsequent integration of appropriate measures that discourage the development of pest populations and keep pesticides and other interventions to levels that are economically justified and reduce or minimise risks to human health and the environment.IPM emphasises the growth of a healthy crop with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems and encourages natural pest mechanisms.

In a nutshell, IPM is about considering all the available options to combat target pests; followed by a conscious decision to prioritize the use of the options that are not only effective but pose the least harm to the environment and are also safe to humans. It is not a single pest control method, but rather, a series of pest management evaluations, decisions and controls. Approaching crop, farm and food protection scientists and technologists, who are readily available at some institutes and colleges of agriculture in the country, is a way farmers and traders should always explore.

In this article:
NSPRIPatricia Pessu
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