It’s amazing how much popularity Garri has gained among Nigerian students over the years. In fact, it has been hilariously described as a lifesaver, especially in times when sapa sets in. I’m also a Nigerian student and trust me when I say Garri is a major asset every student should possess. However, there’s been a common saying that garri is a major cause of eye defects. Wouldn’t you care to know if this is a myth or a fact?
What is Garri?
Cassava flour, commonly known as garri, is obtained by processing the starchy roots of harvested cassava. It could be soaked with lukewarm water and eaten as a cereal or prepared with hot water to produce ‘eba’, a staple food.
Is Garri harmful?
Cassava contains a toxic compound called Cyanide. It is scientifically proven that a tuber of cassava contains a few thousand parts per million (ppm) of cyanide in its compound form. Accumulation of this cyanide could lead to cyanide poisoning and certain paralysis conditions. Although garri is processed, it contains cyanide in varying amounts depending on how well it is processed. Under-processed garri contains a harmful amount of cyanide. This exposes the populace to possible slow cyanide poisoning.
What is the effect of Cyanide on the eyes?
Cyanide affects the nerve at the back of the eye which conducts light sensation from the eye to the brain (the Optic Nerve). This damages the nerve and may result in loss of sight. Cyanide also suppresses Vitamin A and causes blurred vision and cataracts. The World Health Organization claims the body needs less than or maximum of 10ppm of cyanide in garri to avoid systemic poisoning.
A research published in the African Journal of Food Science in 2013 concluded that “consumers of garri have poorer visual acuity and color vision when compared with the non-consumers of garri. This may be due to the exposure to unsafe amount of cyanide in garri; that is greater than 10 ppm (FAO/WHO, 1991) consumed over a long period of time. Consumption of processed cassava (garri) increases the high incidence of refractive errors among the consumers, which may consequently contribute to high prevalence of blindness and severe visual impairment”. The study also noted that garri consumption may be a major cause of blindness and vision impairment especially among those aged above forty years.
The way forward…
In as much as garri could be a lifesaver, I implore all Nigerian students to consume well-processed and fortified garri. A well-processed and fortified garri can fall into the right category (containing a harmless amount of cyanide). However, how do we identify a well processed one with our current crude technique of garri production? Recently, some companies began producing well-packaged and sealed bags of garri. These days, in supermarkets, we notice small bags of sealed garri produced by companies approved by the NAFDAC. This is wholesome in contrast to the exposed garri sold in the market of which we do not know the source. To be on the safe side, let’s endeavor to purchase sealed and NAFDAC approved garri. If you intend to buy in bulk, ensure the bag you’re buying is sealed and NAFDAC approved.
To conclude, dear readers, we can deduce that garri could be a major cause of eye defects. Even more, under-processed garri contains a harmful amount of cyanide which could lead to vision impairment. Therefore the saying that garri could lead to eye defect is not a myth but a scientifically proven fact!
Visual Defects Among Consumers of Processed Cassava (Gari) – Yusuf A. Z, Zakir A., Shemau Z., Abdullahi M, Halima S.A, Abubakar U., SANI Kassim and NuHu Mohammed.