Agriculture ministry discovers contaminated tomatoes on sale

Some of the tomatoes with a whitish colour

Some unscrupulous farmers are using a dangerous chemical to human beings to preserve tomatoes in the market, according to the agriculture ministry officials. Mancozeb 80 WP is used for killing pests and diseases in the garden, but farmers are spraying it on tomatoes on sale, to give them a longer shelf life.

“We are aware that farmers spray tomatoes with Mancozeb, a chemical which leaves a whitish colour on the tomatoes. That chemical has guidelines on the cover, explaining how it is supposed to be used. Most farmers are aware of the guidelines, but they think that when they spray the tomato when it is already in the market, they will last longer. We are not sure of the immediate cause, but it has chronic effects with time,” Steven Byatwale, a commissioner in charge of crop protection at the agriculture ministry, said.

Byetwale said farmers should know that tomatoes last for seven days after harvest and should make sure that they keep the tomatoes in good condition, so that they avoid putting people’s lives in danger.

“Instead of putting people’s lives in danger, farmers should do timely harvesting. They should harvest the tomatoes when they are not very ripe, so that they do not feel pressurised to use deadly chemicals for fear of making losses,” Byetwale said.

John Paul Buyungo, an agronomist at Bold Oters, said the chemical is supposed to be sprayed 14 days before harvest, not after harvest.

“The chemical is a preventive fungicide to protect fungi from attacking tomatoes, but farmers overdo it for both tomatoes and passion fruits. When you buy a tomato and see that whitish colour, just know the farmer increased the dose,” Buyungo said.

He advised consumers to always wash the tomatoes with hot water and also peel off the first layer, before consuming them. Paul Mwabu, a commissioner in charge of chemical inspection at the agriculture ministry, said the practice is an abuse of pesticides, because all agrochemicals have a recommended Pre-Harvest Interval (the minimum time allowed between the day spray and harvest time).

“Normally, the tomatoes can be sprayed to protect them from pests and diseases, before harvest. This is to allow for the pesticide to reduce in concentration, so that they are not harmful to humans,” Mwabu said.

 Health ministry responds

“Ugandans are not supposed to consume goods which are not of good quality. That is why we are pushing for a Bill in Parliament to have the National Drug Authority be involved in food handling. We have realised that Uganda National Bureau of Standards puts so much focus on manufactured goods and less focus on fresh fruits and vegetables,” Sarah Opendi, the state minister for health in charge of general duties, said.