CAMEROON – HYDRAC, a Douala-based local company with a long history of using nuclear techniques for testing in the oil and gas sector, has begun to offer tests for chemical residues and contaminants in cocoa and coffee.
Cocoa production represents over 8% of Cameroon’s agricultural output, but exports have been wabbly as a result of a lack of quality control tests available locally.
This is now expected to change due to HYDRAC’s intervention. The certification they provide, which exporters could obtain only from European labs before, is a prerequisite for export to most countries.
“Without quality assurance and microbiological testing, the sales price is bad – and the income for producers is meagre, resulting in persistent poverty,” said Elie Bertrand Mutngi, Director of Quality and Sustainability at Cameroon’s National Cocoa and Coffee Board.
HYDRAC has cooperated with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 1995, when the need for such tests first emerged during the construction of an oil pipeline connecting landlocked Chad with the Cameroonian coast.
“Food security is a key pillar of the government’s 2020-2030 National Development Strategy, and it requires food safety systems in place. Furthermore, safety and high-quality of food are also paramount in order for the country to increase its exports. It is in support of this plan that HYDRAC has decided to diversify into food testing,” said David Ekoume, the company’s Director General.
Products such as cocoa and coffee sometimes contain pesticide residues and other toxins above safety limits established by the European Union and other import markets.
The IAEA, through its technical cooperation programme and in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, has helped train seven analytical chemists and managers in the use of nuclear and nuclear-based analytical techniques in food safety.
It has also supported the lab with equipment including an atomic absorption spectrometer, a gas chromatograph coupled with a mass spectrometer as well as radio receptor assay tool kits to perform relevant tests.
“Previously a lot of the country’s cocoa and coffee exports were rejected by importers or could only be sold locally at lower prices, due to lack of testing. This is true also for other agricultural exports such as banana and pineapples. We are therefore working to get accreditation as a general food safety lab,” Ekoume said.
Currently, the lab is able to check for mycotoxins, pesticide residues, toxic metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which occur naturally in oil and can contaminate food, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a highly carcinogenic substance formerly used in industrial and consumer products.
HYDRAC is in the process of extending ISO accreditation of its lab from cocoa and coffee to other foods with hopes of finalizing the project this month.