Pesticide misuse threatens Ghana farmers' health and food

By agency reporter
21 Apr 2012

The misuse of pesticides, some of them banned, in northern Ghana is affecting the health of farmers, sometimes with fatal consequences, and contaminating crops, a new survey has revealed.

Northern Presbyterian Agricultural Services found that more than a quarter of the farmers interviewed had suffered from directly inhaling pesticides. Many had also spilt the chemicals on their skin.

Pesticides are often kept near food stores – a practice believed to have caused the deaths of 15 farmers in late 2010 through seepage. In addition, farmers regularly put the wrong pesticides on crops, use stocks that are past their expiry date, and spray too close to harvest time.

The survey, Ghana’s Pesticide Crisis, The Need for Further Government Action, says seven banned or restricted pesticides appear to still be in use in Ghana, with the government failing to act, despite the fact that: ‘numerous academic studies show alarming levels of poisoning" among farmers and the public.

It calls for better training and routine health checks for farmers, as well as monitoring of the chemicals used, and routine testing of the food produced.

It also calls on the Ghanaian government to move away from reliance on pesticides in farming and invest more in more sustainable ways of farming.

The survey covered nearly 200 farmers in 14 villages in the Upper East region of Ghana, but its findings are inevitably common to many developing countries, said Kato Lambrechts, global development agency Christian Aid’s senior advocacy and policy officer for Africa.

"The report underlines how difficult it is for governments in the developing world to monitor properly the pesticides used and the way they are applied by farmers," she said.

"It highlights the need for governments to make concerted efforts to support farmers to move away from intensive farming techniques towards more sustainable methods that don’t require the use of lots of chemicals.

"At present the pesticide trade in Ghana is so lucrative that advertising is prominent and there are now as many as 50 importers, some of them bringing in illegal supplies. These are passed on to unscrupulous dealers who double as agricultural advisers to the farmers because government extension services are inadequate."

The report says that farmers misusing pesticides risk cancer, birth defects and damage to the central nervous system. More common problems include skin irritations, headaches, general body weakness, difficulty in breathing and dizziness.

And it reports suspicions, that the 15 deaths thought to have occurred in 2010 from pesticides leaking into food stocks might be just the tip of the iceberg, with some senior health officials believing that a number of ‘natural’ deaths might also be attributable to pesticide use.

The alternatives to pesticides that the report advocates include various sustainable agriculture practices such as organic farming – involving no use of chemical pesticides – and integrated pest management (IPM) – which reduces but does not usually reject entirely the use of chemicals.

Organic approaches can also involve crop rotation, intercropping, and planting of trap plants and plants that serve as habitats for beneficial insects. If preventive measures are insufficient, insecticides derived from natural plant extracts, natural soap or minerals or plant extracts such as neem can be applied.

It says that experience has shown that organic farming approaches can be successful in northern Ghana, and are often more productive and cost-effective than reliance on chemical pesticides. But they are not being widely pursued because farmers have little information about them and the government mainly promotes pesticides.

* The full report (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document) can be read here: http://www.christianaid.org.uk/images/ghanas-pesticide-crisis.pdf

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