Dying slowly from air pollution, traffic congestion, bad food
By Tope Templer Olaiya, Metro Editor
WELCOME to Lagos, the Centre of Excellence and perhaps, ‘Disorder’. As the commercial capital of Africa’s most populous country, every inch of space in the 3,577km square area, including lagoons and creeks, is keenly contested for and an enormous asset to the state and local governments, traditional rulers, property owners, land grabbers, touts and just anybody strong enough to flex or peddle influence.
As such, managing the commercial activities of an approximate 20 million people should be the chief business of government, especially when many Lagosians approach every engagement from business perspective.
There are no fewer than 33 markets in Lagos, unarguably the largest number in a single city anywhere in the world. But with its limited land mass, one of the smallest in Nigeria, Lagos markets and traders face severe problems and at the same time constitute major challenges to smooth traffic, the environment as well as enforcement of law and order. No other site represents this better than the famous Mile 12 Market.
The market is the mecca for all fresh food items in Lagos and popular for retailing in farm produce like pepper, tomato, onions, vegetables, fruits, yam and other edible goods, which are all beautifully stacked in heaps of unending baskets. It is so popular far beyond the South West to the East and North Central states.
Undoubtedly, a blessing to the people of the state, as it helps them to get arrays of food items in small or large quantity, depending on their pockets; it also serves as a major source of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) for government.
Sadly, this over 40-year-old market of significance is located between Ketu and Mile 12, along Ikorodu Road, in Ikosi Isheri Local Council on a space barely wider than a standard football pitch. With more activities carried out outside the perimeter walls of the market, the neighbouring communities of Mile 12, Ikosi-Ketu, Agiliti, Thomas Laniyan Estate, Owode-Onirin, Agboyi, Ajegunle, Owodelede, Maidan, Isheri North Scheme and environs, are daily bearing the brunt of congestion in ways that have hugely disrupted the lives of residents and the environment.
Within its four walls, the market also grapples daily with its dilemmas. When the trouble is not about waste disposal challenges, environmental and traffic hiccups, it would be leadership tussles between shop owners and traders (mainly from the northern parts of the country) or fire outbreaks.
Of this mess, nothing irks Lagosians and disrupts the mega-city flow than the notorious perennial traffic snarls caused by traders, who, daily, display their goods on more than half of the road to the detriment of motorists and other road users. Not even the rehabilitation of Ikorodu road by the state government has stopped the notorious gridlock on the less than two kilometres stretch between Mile 12 and Ketu.
On the corridor, it is estimated that at least 50,000 vehicles are caught in the traffic daily morning and evening. If every motorist spends an extra N500, roughly three litres of fuel daily above what he or she would normally spend, that is N25 million. In a week, that adds up to N175 million, N700 million in a month and in a year, an estimated N8.4 billion ($24 million) would have been wasted in the traffic on the Mile 12 market axis alone.
Apart from the money lost is the damage the gridlock does to the health of motorists. Recently, a new study revealed that long-term exposure to traffic pollution is associated with an 18 per cent increase in the risk of heart attacks. Air pollution is estimated to be responsible for a shocking 29,000 premature deaths a year in the United Kingdom – ten times the number of people killed in road accidents, according to the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution, an advisory committee to the government.
Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at King’s College, London, says air pollution is now a major public health hazard in the UK. “In my view, because we all need to breathe, air pollution is second only to smoking in terms of hazards to public health,” he said.
It is a known fact that air pollution in Lagos does not discriminate among social classes. Researches revealed that Lagos’ 20 million residents inhale daily a deadly mix of Particulate Matter (PM), Asbestos, Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Oxide (NO), Carbon Monoxide (CO), and partially unburnt hydrocarbons.
These substances contribute to the death of seven million people – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure, according to new estimates by World Health Organisation (WHO), released recently. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk.
In particular, the new data reveal a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer. This is in addition to air pollution’s role in the development of respiratory diseases, including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.
It is even more woes for residents of neighbouring areas, who are subjected to a hectic time coming out of their homes to access the Ikorodu road. Trucks filled to the brim with goods take up nearly all the available spaces in a long queue waiting for the chance to move into the market to have their goods offloaded.
They are also assaulted with heaps of nauseating market waste that take days to be cleared off the road. During rainy season, it is like a journey through the wilderness navigating the mess of waste and flooding pushed to the roads because of the blocked drainage. For the pollution and environmental hazards, it seems both the government and resident associations are at their wits end in addressing the dilemma.
The untold story of food waste
Beyond the public nuisance of traffic gridlock the Mile 12 market has constituted to road users, is the story of food waste and its implication on the environment and consumers of spoilt food.
Recently at the market, it was a shouting match between a trader and three men identified as truck driver and motor-boys, which attracted throngs of onlookers. While much of the argument was in gibberish English and Hausa language, it was not difficult ascertaining the cause of the disagreement – a truck fully loaded with carrots and oranges.
The congregation of onlookers could only stand and stare at the ensuing melee between the two parties shouting themselves hoarse to be heard. The exasperated trader was refusing to receive his consignment, which arrived late, after a few days delay on the road.
To many of the bystanders, it was a common sight seeing truckloads of perishable food items and farm produce waste even before they are offloaded. After much debate, the driver was paid fully and asked to do whatever he wanted with the spoilt carrots and oranges.
Food waste or food loss is food that is discarded or lost uneaten. As of 2015, 2.3 billion tons of food, about one third of the global food production, are lost or wasted annually. Loss and wastage occur in all steps in the food supply chain, and in developing countries, most loss occurs during production.
Mile 12 Market is known for selling assorted fruits like orange, banana, cucumber, pineapple, garden egg, watermelon, pawpaw and foodstuffs at wholesale price. The market also acts as assembly point for foodstuffs “shipped” into Lagos from other states and neighbouring countries.
Regular visitors to the market know two things are just as important as money: a pair of robber boots to protect their feet and shoes from getting soiled, and a handkerchief to reduce the assault of human and material waste on their nostrils.
At the unveiling of Danfoss food processing company in Lagos earlier in the year, the Sales Manager, North West & Central Africa Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, Youssef Zitouni, revealed that Nigeria’s food waste has hit $750 billion yearly. It is not far-fetched that the hundreds of the Mile 12 merchants dump many of this food waste in Lagos.
According to him, food wastage in Nigeria is incredible as “80 per cent of food produced is wasted in Nigeria, contributing to 33 per cent of food waste in the world.”
He also hinted that for “every ton of food waste generated, 1.9t C02 eq/t is emitted to the environment,” insisting that this explains why half of Nigeria’s population face threats of hunger and starvation.
Alhaji Abdul Mohammed, General Secretary of the market, said the lack of storage facilities and food preservatives is the major cause of food waste at Mile 12.
“Presently, the price of food in the market is high due to the rainy season. We lack the facility to store and preserve our farm produce. Also, most of our farmers still use the old methods of storage and preservation, which do not last long. It is time they began to employ modern ways of preserving foods, which are beyond what farmers can do on their own.”
A few metres from the building serving as secretariat of the traders’ union is parked a truck loaded with onions. Passersby could barely walk past without holding their breath, due to the stench of decaying onions.
“That truck is still in the line queuing to be offloaded and half of the onions are already spoilt. I learnt Borno State bought the onions from the farmers through their agriculture project. Imagine if this was not a government scheme, the loss would have been borne by the farmers,” Mohammed said.
According to him, agriculture business is rewarding but greatly unpredictable. “One of the factors causing food wastage is weather. Whether it is potato, tomato, or onion, fruits cannot be preserved for long. Secondly, transport problem adds to about 30 per cent of food spoilage,” he said.
“In the past, tomatoes were not transported in trucks; they were transported in trains and coaches. With modern trains, you can spend not more than five hours from Kano to Lagos, but spending a whole day on the road is not the best way to transport perishable goods.
“The problem of transportation is compounded by bad roads. Each time trucks jump into the thousands of potholes on the roads, it causes more damage to the goods. Sometimes, trucks fall over and waste thousands of tons of food.”
A trader at the market, Ibrahim Haruna, wants government to take the transport sector seriously, if it is interested in developing the agriculture sector. “Nigeria is so blessed, we have no business having food crisis. What we produce is enough to feed the whole of West Africa, but much of this is lost because of the failure of rail transportation,” he said.
Mile 12 Market, epicenter of bad food economy
Surprisingly, The Guardian observed that bad/spoilt food has its fans. Blame it on recession and you may be wrong, as the patrons of spoilt food is as old as the market. A trader, Ibrahim Musa, noted that it is difficult to estimate food loss, because there are buyers for every goods, whether good or bad. “There are those who specifically shop for spoilt or damaged goods because it is cheaper,” he said.
The state of the food has not deterred some buyers, particularly roadside food vendors. Baskets of rotten tomatoes, which the traders call ‘Esha’ in Yoruba, leave the market in droves, not to the waste truck, but to rickety vehicles waiting at the entrance of the market to dispatch to their subscribers. A small basin goes for N500 while fresh ones cost twice as much, or even more.
A seller, Mustapha Usman, said the low price is the attraction for buyers. “The tomatoes are cheap because they are bad. That is why people are buying it,” he said in smattering English.
Bad for the liver
A professor of food microbiology at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof. Olusimbo said consumers of decaying food expose themselves to numerous liver and kidney diseases. “The rotten food is a good medium for the growth of bacteria and fungi,” she said.
“They are dangerous to our health and cause diseases. Consumers can have renal failure, liver failure and it can also affect the intestine, causing diarrhoea and Septicemia, when the bacteria get into the blood stream.”
The university don said the bacteria could convert the Vitamin C in the tomato to Lactic Acid or Xanthurenic Acid, which “can hurt the liver.” She advised that one should eat fresh food as much as possible, adding that the local councils should ensure the good quality of food sold in the markets.
“That is why we pay taxes to government. There should be food inspectors monitoring the quality of food. This is the kind of situation that leads to epidemics.”
Foreign collaborations with Mile 12 Market beckons
There have been some international interests lately, with the show of intention by the United Kingdom (UK) to support the Lagos State government in its quest to develop the market to international standard.
The development, the Permanent Under-Secretary of the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), James Wharton, said is in line with UK’s Department for International Development (DFID)’s aids programmes for Nigeria, during a recent official visit to the market.
Wharton’s trip was to assess the extent of works to be carried out at the market in line with the Lagos State government’s plans to restructure the market.
The United Kingdom spends about £500 million in aids for Nigeria annually through DFID aids programmes. The visit, according to Wharton, was also to look out for areas of possible investment in the market.
Wharton, who was received at the market by the Chairman, Mile 12 Market Management Committee and Chairman Perishable Food Stuff Market Association, Haruna Muhammed and other executive members, noted that the market offered lots of investment potential, but added that a lot more work needed to be done to ensure it delivered what the people expected from it.
He added that the UK government would play significant role to support the market men and women to add value to their produce.
While addressing Wharton and his team, Muhammed said the investment opportunity by UK would bring a lot of relief to the market, adding that the market had never benefited from government assistance since its existence.
“Over 40 years of its existence, there had never been any government’s assistance, we need assistance from both government and the World Bank,” Muhammed said.