[NAIROBI] Misuse of pesticides in northern Ghana is affecting the health of farmers, sometimes with fatal consequences, and contaminating crops, a new survey has revealed. Some of the pesticides used have been banned
In the survey, Christian Aid partner Northern Presbyterian Agricultural Services found that over a quarter of the farmers interviewed had suffered from directly inhaling pesticides while many had also spilt the chemicals on their skin.
The pesticides are often kept near food stores – a practice believed to have caused the deaths of 15 farmers in late 2010 through seepage. Farmers also 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, revealed that seven banned or restricted pesticides appear to still be in use in Ghana.
The government has also failed to act despite ‘numerous academic studies show alarming levels of poisoning" among farmers and the public. The situation 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.
The Ghanaian government should also move away from reliance on pesticides in farming and invest more in more sustainable ways of farming.
Although the survey covered nearly 200 farmers in 14 villages is in the Upper East region of Ghana, its findings are common to many developing countries according to Kato Lambrechts, 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.’
According to the report, farmers misusing pesticides risk cancer, birth defects and damage to the central nervous system. But the most common problems include skin irritations, headaches, general body weakness, difficulty in breathing and dizziness.
The report released on April 19 raises suspicions that 15 deaths that may have occurred in 2010 from pesticides leaking into food stocks might be just a glimpse of a bigger problem, with some senior health officials believing some ‘natural’ deaths might also be attributable to pesticide use.
It is proposing various sustainable agriculture practices alternatives 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.
The report says organic farming approaches can be successful in northern Ghana, and are often more productive and cost-effective than reliance on chemical pesticides.
However, these are not being widely pursued due to lack of knowledge among farmers and the government’s promotion of pesticides.