The good and the bad

THE use of chemicals in modern agriculture has significantly increased productivity.

But this has come at a cost. Indiscriminate use has increased the concentration of pesticides in food and our environment, with associated negative effects on human health.

Pesticide exposure can cause a range of neurological health effects such as memory loss, loss of co-ordination, reduced speed of response to stimuli such as heat, reduced visual ability, altered or uncontrollable mood and general behaviour, and reduced motor skills.

Diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficient hyperactivity disorder and even birth defects have been linked to the usage of pesticides in our food.

Irrespective of the fact that pesticides can be used on food production but it is still chemical.

The Consumer Council of Fiji is urging farmers to look at alternative means of controlling pests.

These methods include crop rotation, polyculture, trap crops, which attract pests away from the valuable crops, reduced use of chemical pesticides, organic farming, and biological pest control.

The council has embarked on a project titled “Safe and Sustainable food for All”, a campaign against pesticides in food.

It has conducted community workshops in the Central, Western and Northern divisions to create awareness on the harmful effects of pesticides.

This project is funded by the Green Action Fund (GAF).

It is a collaborative project by Consumers International (CI) and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) to promote safe and sustainable food in the Global South.

Ideally a pesticide must be lethal to the targeted pests, but not to non-target species, including humans.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Hence, the controversy of misuse of pesticides has now surfaced.

The rampant use of these chemicals, under the adage, “if little is good, a lot more will be better” has played havoc with human and other life forms.

Compared with the general population, farmers, farmworkers, and even their children are at higher risk because they experience more direct exposure to pesticides, at higher doses, and through various routes.

It is vital that farmers take extra precaution when applying chemicals on their farms.

When spraying the chemicals, farmers must wear overalls or long sleeve shirts and trousers, protective headwear and shoes that cover the entire feet.

The mouth and nose should be covered with a mask or cotton cloth. Hands and eyes can be protected by wearing gloves and goggles.

All the precautions must be taken to avoid chemicals touching any part of the body.

Labels of the chemical or pesticide must be read before it is applied in the farm. Better understanding of the correct mixture and the quantity that is to be administered is crucial to prevent misuse.

It is also important to check all the equipment for leakages to ensure that any accidental spillage of chemicals does not occur.

Extreme caution must be taken when applying the chemicals so that unintended targets such as streams, ponds or other bodies of water are not contaminated.

After spraying or applying the chemical, protective wear and application material such as sprayer or hose should be kept away from other equipment and material to prevent accidental contamination.

It is equally important to wash your body with soap and water.

Pesticides and chemicals in general must be stored in a safe, secure and easily identified place and out of reach of children.

The chemical container must always have proper labelling and ensure it is stored in appropriate temperatures.

Different types of pesticides must be stored in different areas, to prevent cross contamination and to avoid any wrong application by accident.

Also, pesticides should not be stored in food or drink containers.

This should be particularly away from food, feed, or seed. Chemical storage room must be well ventilated and away from any source of extensive heat.

Given the growing body of scientific evidence pointing to harm, we believe that more precaution must be taken by farmers when using toxic chemicals.

* Next week: read on why consumers should take precaution when buying and consuming fruits and vegetables.

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