KAMPALA – The production of a big number of foodstuffs involves the use of poisonous substances that could be harmful to our health. It is almost impossible for farmers nowadays to successfully grow crops like tomatoes or Irish potatoes without the use of pesticides. It is equally difficult for farmers working on more than five acres to keep weeds under control without using herbicides.
Agro-chemicals are almost indispensible in modern farming, if not handled carefully they are dangerous not only to the farmers using them but also to the consumers and the environment.
Studies carried out by PHE (Pesticide Use, Health and Environment Project) and UNACOH (Uganda National Association of Community and Occupational Health) and whose findings were released last August in Kampala indicate that only 23% of farmers in Uganda have received training in pesticide and herbicide usage such as proper application techniques, storage, and safety measures. The studies further indicated that of the farmers who use synthetic pesticides only 14% had had training in its usage. Yet a growing number of our farmers use chemicals to safeguard their crops and livestock against diseases. Pesticides are also applied on stored crops like beans and maize.
Most farmers don’t take the trouble to follow manufacturers’ instruction when using chemicals, probably due to lack of training. The chemicals have also been discovered to have negative effects on the environment, polluting the soil and public water sources. Three hundred and ninety cases of acute poisoning were registered in 43 of the 66 health facilities in Wakiso and Pallisa districts between 2013 and 2017, according to the studies. Majority of the cases were non-intentional while the rest were occupational poisonings or due to unclear causes. Agro-chemical shopkeepers are among the high risk cases as they too hardly observe the required safety measures.
The studies led by Dr Aggrey Atuhaire revealed a total of eight different pesticides –Mancozeb, Malathion, Metalaxyl, Profenofos, Cypermethrin, Dichlorvos, Chlorpyrifos and Lambda-cyhalothrin – found in tomato samples randomly picked from market stalls in the different research districts. Of particular concern was Mancozeb, a fungicide, which was found in much higher concentrations than the rest in detectable levels for all samples from the farm and market. The studies indicated that most tomato farmers mindlessly spray big amounts of pesticides on the crop which can easily be identified on the tomatoes in market stalls.
Consumers have been advised to wash the tomatoes with warm water or to peel off the outer skin before eating
them. Among other recommendations to are: looking out for pesticide free tomatoes, growing personal vegetables at home with limited or careful usage of chemicals, invigorated national farmers’ education and practical guidance by agricultural extension workers, kicking out counterfeit agrochemicals, and passing and implementing the Uganda Organic Agriculture Policy.
A Food and Agriculture (FAO) report dated 23 June 2017 said that mindless use of agro-chemicals leads to soil pollution. It said, “Excess nitrogen and trace metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury can impair plant metabolism and cut crop productivity, ultimately putting pressure on arable land. When they enter the food chain, such pollutants also pose risks to food security, water resources, rural livelihoods and human health.”
Ugandan farmers apply agricultural chemicals like Glyphosate, a broad-spectrum herbicide, in fields close to swamps and public water sources. Running rainwater carries the chemicals from the fields to unintended areas in the valley. In the two studies, Glyphosate was the herbicide with the highest overall average concentration for the 86 water points for two sampling regimes in Budaka, Kamwenge, Gulu, Bushenyi, Rakai (Lake Kijanibarora) and in Sembabule.
Other toxic chemicals found in public water sources in the areas include Aldicarb, Dichlovos, Atrazine and Chlorfenvinphos. The research findings indicated that surface water sources had an over-all average higher pesticide concentration compared to groundwater sources. The most polluted water points were fetch ponds (in Budaka, Rakai, Pallisa, districts) streams (in Kamwenge, Sembabule, Kapchorwa) a lake (Kijanibarora, Rakai District) protected springs (in Bushenyi District) and boreholes (in Gulu Districts).
Another cause of worry, according to the study, is the way Ugandan farmers handle the empty containers of the agrochemicals. Most farmers abandon the containers in the compounds of their houses where children use them as toys and from where the containers are driven by running water into swamps and public water points. The researchers recommend that the government should put in place incentives to compel farmers to return empty triple rinsed and punctured pesticides
containers to pesticide shops or to central collection points for proper disposal. Empty pesticide containers remain poisonous and dangerous. The research projects also revealed that most farmers don’t use protective gear when handling or applying pesticides which is a big health risk.
The study reports emphasized the need for increased training of medical workers in dealing with herbicide and pesticide poisoning cases. It was emphasized that those taking a patient to the hospital should carry the container of the agro-chemical that caused the accident for the doctors to know what treatment to provide.
“Approximately 90% of the respondents agreed that pesticides are harmful to human health and that tomatoes sold in their local markets contain pesticide residues,” says the study report. “The reason for buying tomatoes containing pesticide residues is that majority (58.97% have no alternative. Approximately 82% mentioned peeling of the tomatoes as the best preparation method of reducing pesticide residues, though in practice, less than 24.63% of the consumers reported to actually peel the tomatoes during preparation of meals.”
Dr. Deogratias K Sekimpi, Executive Director of UNACOH (Uganda National Association of Community and Occupational Health) said, “We are not saying that farmers should completely stop using agro-chemicals. Rather we are asking everybody to be careful with them. All safety measures should be observed by everybody using them and they should all apply the right doses and avoid randomly mixing the chemicals without any expert guidance. Consumers should be cautious of the dangers of pesticide residues and wash the vegetables or peel off their outer skin during meal preparation.”