Nigeria has been losing about N1.3 trillion annually due to the inability to exploit the Gamma Irradiation Facility (GIF) at the Nuclear Technology Centre (NTC), Sheda Science and Technology Complex (SHESTCO) in Abuja, Dr. Abduljhalil Tafawa-Balewa, said yesterday.
Tafawa-Balewa, a nuclear chemist, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos that the facility which had been wasting could make over 15 per cent of the country’s annual budget.
He described as regrettable that the facility, one of the most modern commercial irradiation facilities in the world and the only one in Africa was not being being exploited.
Gamma irradiation is a technology meant for the preservation of food crops and other agricultural products; it is a process by which products like yams, tomatoes, mangoes, oranges and other food products are passed through a ray called the Gamma Ray.
When food crops are passed through the ray, it sterilises the foods crops against microbial infection. The ray also maintains the quality of the food product against spoilage, thereby curbing post-harvest losses.
The nuclear chemist said: “That facility was established strictly for food preservation, reduction of senescence, that is, reduction of ripening in fruits and vegetables which will give you an opportunity to add value to these agricultural products.
“If a crop is passed through this ray, it will make the crop to last for more than six months or one year without microbial infection or reduction in the quality of the product. This will also help to export some agricultural products outside this country without using chemicals.
“In yam, the technology inhibits sprouting and maintains the quality of the yam for the period of storage. Gamma irradiation is where the rest of the world is going. Ghana has a gamma irradiation facility that is under as ace as the one we have in Nigeria and this helps them.
“If you go outside this country and you want an African yam, you will only get a Ghanaian yam. Some people have been smart to take Nigerian yam to Ghana, have it irradiated for reduction of microbial growth or senescence.
“When they get to other countries, it is named Ghanaian yam, while it could be named Nigerian yam where it actually comes from. Ghana has about six or seven species of yam, while Nigeria has 44 species of yam but you can never get Nigerian yam out there.
“A lot of them are being returned to us for simple reason. Europe does not like and want the type of pesticides or chemicals we use on our food for preservation before we ship to them.
“They think if we want to poison our people,we should not poison them as well. So they placed an embargo on foods coming from Nigeria when we have this massive irradiation facility that can take care of all of this.”
Tafawa-Balewa said the facility, if filled with cobalt-60 could do cross-linking polymerization of acrylamide built with Potassium Caprylate which would help to have several seasons of growth for plants and other products that did not take more than 90 days to harvest
According to him, Nigeria is losing out on that even though it has both subsistence and commercial farmers.
Tafawa-Balewa said that the technology could also be beneficial to medical practitioners as it could be used for sterilisation of medical, clinical and pharmaceutical products and equipment.
He said: “Gamma irradiation can be used to sterilise medical equipment because you can go into a hospital and go home with a different disease from what you went with because of poor sterilisation. It can also be used for cross-linking of rubber and other organic materials to engage in the polymerisation of these rubber products.
“About ₦1.3 trillion is being lost annually because we have not been able to exploit this. We have been placing square pegs in round holes. The managers do not know how to run the facility.”
Tafawa-Balewa said that the facility could employ about 220,000 people when it is optimally operational.