By Kemi Olatunde
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) a few months ago warned Nigerians against the consumption of some foods including cow hides popularly known as ponmo, smoked meat and bush meat as a preventive measure from contracting the anthrax and this development came amid reports of cases in neighbouring West African sub-regions such as Northern Ghana bordering Burkina Faso and Togo.
The warning has however, fallen on deaf ears of most people as there has just been a slight reduction in the number of its consumers. Most dedicated ponmo eaters are bent on not parting with it.
Apart from the warning, there have been several debates as regards this delicacy, including having no nutritional value among others.
Nevertheless, consumers have vowed to cherish and stay glued to it whether or not it has any nutrients.
Speaking with The Hope, a teacher, Mrs Bisola Ajayi said that ponmo has become part and parcel of her and insisted that her cooking is incomplete without its inclusion.
“I like ponmo so much and I cannot do without cooking with it. I have been like this since my childhood. It goes down well with all food for me. Apart from the fact that it is affordable, there is a way it helps in garnishing my well prepared meal. Nobody prays to fall sick or contact any sickness from what we eat, Government should find a way of curtailing diseases rather than warning people against consumption of affordable food. I am not against it, but I think that it is just too affordable for Nigerians to resist.”
A ponmo trader who preferred to be addressed as “oniponmo” within the popular Oja Oba market noted that there has been minimal drop in sales due to the economy, stating that people have always been on the look out for it.
“Things are costly generally, but I have been making sales. My customers have been coming as usual. But the quantity they buy has dropped due to the dwindling economy. The price has increased with reduced quantity due to cost of purchase, but they still cope with it. I will say that ponmo has become the rescue of most people now as it is affordable. Prices of meat and fish have been increased, hence most people resort to eating ponmo.”
Another seller, Mrs Ajiboye Yemisi decried low patronage which she said is due to fuel subsidy removal and not as a result of the warning.
She said; “People are only bothered about what to eat now. The money being received by civil servants is nothing to write home about compared to what obtains with the current economy. Nobody is saving money again because the one at hand can not meet the daily needs.
“Although I have been making sales but it is not as it used to be. To be candid, people are eating ponmo because the sellers do have patronage unlike others who deal in other goods who a times don’t make sales all through the day.”
Also, a seller who preferred to be addressed as ”mummy Toba” in a neighbourhood market in Akure said that sales was affected at the initial stage of the warning, noting that people neglected and opted for a substitute.
Her words, “I am aware that government said it shouldn’t be consumed sometimes ago and immediately the warning was given, people stopped patronizing me. But now, my customers are fully back. Infact, I have more customers at my beck and call. I sell fish alongside ponmo. My fish customers have diverted to ponmo as fish is more expensive than before.
Speaking at her mother’s mini processing ponmo factory in Oke-Ijebu area of Akure, a trader who simply gave her name as “mummy Fathia” who just started the trade, described the banned ponmo as those from other countries, stating that most ponmo people eat in the country are well processed.
“The ponmo which the Federal Government said we should not consume is not from Nigeria. It can never be the dry one like this ( pointing to the heap of dried cow skin sighted within the vicinity). It is the raw ones which is mostly preserved with chemical.
“My ponmo passes through four processes. The first is the removal of the hair; the second stage is to put it on fire to remove hidden hair after which we put it inside a pot to cook. It is thereafter washed and cut. After this stage, it is soaked in water to become swollen. This is when we sell to customers who in turn wash thoroughly before consumption,” she explained.
Alhaja Adekunle who has been into ponmo business for over 40 years, stated that it is impossible for people to resist ponmo due to the present economic situation of the country, which according to her, is biting hard on everyone.
She explained that people are finding means to survive and that ponmo seems to be at the mercy of all.
She called on government to find lasting solution to the economic hardship in order to alleviate the suffering of the masses.
“When I started this business, things weren’t like this. But these days, people are finding it difficult to make ends meet. Ponmo is affordable to all and that is why it is difficult for anyone to stay away from it. On daily basis, we have people patronizing us but I must say that the more they come, the more some owe us.
“It is not easy to neglect our age long customers who a times cannot afford to pay us immediately after purchase. Government should improve on projects that will help bring smiles to faces of Nigerians.”
According to findings, ponmo is gotten from skin of animals and most cattle rearers are not aware of good proper hygiene and due to this, the animals become prone to skin diseases and infections which they don’t treat properly as they mostly resort to injecting them with antibiotics which may be harmful.
Most of the affected livestock die with most of the harmful injectables stuck on the skin.
These chemicals and diseases on the skin make ponmo unfit for consumption.
According to some health experts; thorough washing and proper cooking. May not be enough to eliminate chemicals or kill the bacteria present.
During the singing of cow’s hair (slight burning with flame), the meat is exposed to many harmful chemicals such as tyres, engine oil, metals, and other unhygienic substances.
Not only do these flames cause air pollution, the chemicals and toxins also find their way into the meat leading to contamination.
Although some have been encouraged to use the traditional method of boiling in water and shaving afterwards, others still prefer it burnt due to its convenience.
Even, there have been rumours of some sellers soaking the cowskin in chemicals (such as formalin) to increase the thickness in order to make more sales.
Apart from making the meat unsafe, it also makes it unnecessarily soft and tasteless.
All these unsafe practices are what make ponmo a threat to our health, (not the Ponmo itself) as it can lead to cancer and damage to the organs of the body like the kidney and liver.
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Anthrax is a disease caused by gram-positive, rod-shaped bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis. It occurs naturally in soil and commonly affects domestic and wild animals around the world.
People can contract anthrax if they come in contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products.
FMARD in July, 2023 confirmed one case of Anthrax disease in a mixed livestock farm in Niger State which is the first animal case to be reported in Nigeria since the beginning of the West Africa outbreak in Ghana in June 2023. On July 13, 2023, the sudden deaths of livestock in this farm with eight (8) mortality was reported. In addition, the animals who died were observed to have been bleeding from external orifices without blood clotting.