May 07, 2021
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Tragedy looms as food crops with ‘heavy metal’ enter market

Lifestyles impact heavily on our health, especially the food we eat, but increasingly, the exploitation of our natural resources for our livelihood poses a major risk to our well-being.


The use of weedicides in preparing the land for the cultivation of all kinds of foods and cash crops threatens food security and safety. Also, the activities of illegal miners do not only threaten land and water bodies but the safety of food and water in the mining communities also.

Scientists warn

For this reason, Ghanaian soil scientists say an imminent medical problem,  including deaths, is likely to hit the country, following the consumption of food crops with ‘heavy metals’ from mining communities. A recent test conducted by the Soil Research Institute (SRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) revealed that most oranges produced from Obuasi, for instance, were contaminated with heavy metals which could be injurious to consumers.

The Director for the SRI in Kumasi, Dr Joseph Opoku Fening, told the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Prof. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, at the end of a two-day familiarisation tour of some institutions under the CSIR in Kumasi last Wednesday. The research was to determine the threshold levels of chemicals in food crops and it was found out that mercury and lead, which were the main chemicals for mining, were dominant.

Dr Fening said the results were alarming because it was difficult for consumers to know the source of the food items. The research further revealed that 40 per cent of farmlands have been taken over by illegal miners, popularly called galamsey operators, with the Western Region topping the chart by 70 per cent. The experts say the phenomenon needs to be reversed quickly to avoid food shortage which can lead to hunger.

Being the main lynch-pin on which agriculture thrives, the institute is urging the government and its relevant bodies to help farmers adhere to its mapping or zoning of the country’s farmlands to ensure increased productivity and quality production. Depending on the quality of the soil, the country has been demarcated into zones, indicating which particular area or soil is good for a particular crop type.

Dr Fening said the mapping was also to guide investors so that they would not invest in unproductive areas. Prof.  Frimpong-Boateng also toured the Building and Road Research Institute (BRRI) and Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG).

Similar researches by WRI

Similar researches by the Water Research Institute (WRI) found that the Birim River contained levels of arsenic higher than the recommended limits of the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA). The water also contains suspended materials of 1,000 milligrammes per litre (ml/l) which is higher than the 40ml/l allowed by the Water Resources Commission (WRC).

The Birim River takes its source from the Atiwa Forest Range and has been identified by research scientists as one of the most polluted sources of water in the country because of the activities of illegal miners who use all kinds of chemicals in the process. However, the yellowish water, said to be filled with metals dangerous to human health, is used by vegetable farmers along its banks at Akim Oda and its tributary, Mmor at Akwatia, for irrigation.

Ghana’s mining laws require that mining companies treat water used for mining activities before they are discharged into the environment but in the case of the illegal miners, water bodies are the centre of operation, a situation that makes communities living along the river vulnerable to the risks of the dangerous chemicals. Communities along the Birim depend on it heavily for both domestic and agricultural purposes, a situation that makes them vulnerable.

With little regard for the environment, the illegal miners mine in the river, close to the river banks or direct the course to mine minerals from the river basin.

WHO warnings

Traces of two heavy metals, arsenic and mercury, found in the river by the WRI research, have been tagged as harmful by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Although the WRI found small traces of the dangerous chemicals in the river, the WHO paints a deadly picture of the chemicals, saying even small amounts may cause serious health problems, and are a threat to the development of the child in the womb.

According to the WHO, arsenic is highly toxic in its inorganic form and water contaminated with the chemical used for drinking, food preparation and irrigation of food crops poses the greatest threat to public health.  On the other hand, mercury, the more popular of the two chemicals, in illegal mining, is considered by WHO as one of the top 10 chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern.

“Mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. People are mainly exposed to methylmercury, an organic compound, when they eat fish and shellfish that contain the compound,” the organisation said on its website.

President on environment

The alarming rate of the destruction of the country’s environment was not left out of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s Independence Day speech last Monday. “We are endangering the very survival of the beautiful and blessed land that our forebears bequeathed to us. The dense forests that were home to varied trees, plants and fauna have been largely wiped out. Today, we import timber for our use, and the description of our land as a tropical forest no longer fits the reality. Our rivers and lakes are disappearing, and those that still exist are all polluted.

“It bears repeating that we do not own the land, but hold it in trust for generations yet unborn. We have a right to exploit the bounties of the earth and extract the minerals and even redirect the path of the rivers, but we do not have the right to denude the land of the plants and fauna nor poison the rivers and lakes,” the President said.

NPP manifesto on forest sector

In its manifesto, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) outlined plans, including promoting sustainable water resource management, ecotourism\launch of an apiculture forest conservation programme, support conservation of biodiversity and priority ecosystems, support bamboo and rattan plantation development and restoration of degraded areas and plantation establishment. 

The government’s policy on forestry resources seeks to rehabilitate degraded forest reserve areas through the planting of fast-growing indigenous and exotic species, conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. The manifesto targets 30,000 hectares of degraded areas within and outside forest reserves for reforestation and plantation development, using fast-growing indigenous and exotic species.

The party also pledged to conduct regular assessments of effluent into our river bodies with the view to controlling pollution.

Source: Graphic Online

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Last modified on Saturday, 15 February 2020 01:24
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