Msimbazi valley unfit for vegetables

Deo Mushi

IF I can remember well, the Tanzania Foods and Drugs Authority (TFDA) last year issued a statement saying that vegetable farmers who use polluted water from the Msimbazi River may be endangering consumers’ health.

The report said that this was because crops grown in an unhygienic environment where farmers use sewage or industrial spills to water their vegetables may be contaminated with pathogenic micro-organisms and chemicals likely to cause serious diseases.

A year after that communiqué was issued, there has been no steps taken by relevant authorities, to ban vegetable farming in that area, and Dar es salaam dwellers still put their lives in danges as they continue eating vegetable grown in that area.

Ms Candida Shirima who is TFDA’s manager in charge of Food Risk Analysis was quoted by the local media saying that dangerous bacteria found in vegetables can be destroyed by cooking for a long time, but chemicals including heavy metals can still find their way into people’s bodies.

Though farmers in the valley beside Msimbazi Creek say that they had no choice but to use whatever water that is available, I wonder why institutions like the National Environment Management Council (NEMC) has not taken measures to stop farmers from using the Msimbazi valley for any type of agriculture.

Veteran vegetable growers in that place say that they often taps the stream of waste water flowing from a crowded Buguruni slum to water their crops, and the question to ask them would be ‘Do you know you are putting lives of people in danger by watering vegetables using toxic contaminated water? When journalists interviewed them recently about that farming they said without ignominy “We are not ashamed of using this water because we don’t have access to clean piped water.”

Reports say that these farmers initially used ‘clean’ water from the Msimbazi River, but authorities stopped them, saying that hazardous spills had tainted the water. “If we are forbidden to even use water from the river, how on earth can we earn a living?” They say.

As most of us know, shortage of clean water in Dar es Salaam has forced the growing number of farmers to use waste water or river water tainted by chemical spills on their crops, without considering health hazards of people who shall consume their products.

I still recall a TFDA statement issued last which in part said “Anyone eating half-cooked vegetables or salads is likely to be exposed to bacteria or dangerous heavy metal that may lead to cancer, kidney failure or impaired cognitive function in children.”

I remember to have read a research done few years ago, which showed that there are heavy metals concentrations in selected areas used for urban agriculture in Dar es Salaam, suggesting that the discharge of chemical by products into the city’s creeks and valley streams had led to unacceptable levels of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, copper and chromium.

The analysis showed that the soil and water samples contained substances that may be harmful to vegetable eaters in Dar es Salaam.

Most farmers growing vegetables in some hazardous places in Dar es Salaam have vowed to keep doing so to support their family and I think time has come to tell them the long arm of the law bars them from producing harmful food products that put lives of consumers in danger.

Though farmers claim that they depend on that work for their only survival, and if the government wants to ban it then obviously their families will suffer, then they need to be educated on the deaths they may cause if they continue producing toxic affected vegetables.

I have read a study done in 2010 by William Mwegoha and Charles Kihampa of the Department of Environmental Science and Management, Ardhi University which has revealed that heavy metals in soil and water were determined at four points along Msimbazi River valley in Dar es Salaam city, a place which is popular for vegetable farming.

They said that oil analysis indicated that the concentrations of heavy metals are highest at the top soil and decreased with depth and they can harm lives of people living in such areas. The presence of heavy metals in soil and water in Msimbazi valley indicates the potential for pollution transfer from these media to the food chain, especially since this valley is popular for vegetable cultivation.

The study also found urban dwellers in Dar es Salaam are engaged in vegetable and fruit cultivation as a form of employment, in order to reduce their expenditure on food because of dramatic declines in real incomes. Sociologists admit that fruit and vegetable production is a response to both economic necessity and the expanding market which makes such production profitable for those with access to productive resources.

Although fruits are grown in the peri-urban areas, more than 50 per cent of the vegetables grown within the urban areas is unfit for human consumption due to reasons mentioned above. Some cultivators use manure, but most use inorganic fertilisers and pesticides, which finally find their way into rivers such as the Msimbazi and Sinza, and ultimately end up in the Indian Ocean.

Gardening activities carried out on household plots and in open spaces, river valleys and peri-urban areas need closer supervision of health experts to guarantee safety before customers access the product.

Because of insufficient water for irrigation, some cultivators use stagnant polluted water, as observed in many pans of the city like Kigogo, Tabata, Kawe and Sinza and time has come to tell them ‘stop that kind of farming’.

Some vegetables produced in these perilous places are usually sold at the different joints of Dar es Salaam especially in Magomeni, Tandale, Ubungo, Manzese and in Kurasini areas.

Time has therefore come for city authorities to issue strict measures that shall bar cultivation of vegetables in Msimbazi valley and other hazardous places, which produce vegetables unfit for human consumption.

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