Poisonous pesticide in West Africa: Who will bell the cat?

It is time to rethink agricultural practices on the African continent and favour approaches that respect the environment and human health.

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Poisonous pesticide, West Africa, Who will bell the cat? By Ebere AgozieBy Ebere Agozie

As the world is grappling with the effects of climate change and food insecurity, Africa is not only racing against these challenges but is also neck-deep into a bigger monster poisoning every plate of food eaten.

The food more often than not, contains residues of poisonous pesticides and herbicides used by farmers in the food production process.

Growing demand for food in Africa poses considerable challenges to agricultural production, especially in West Africa where banditry and cattle rustling have chased famers away from their farmlands leaving the region with less farmlands.

The available land for cultivation is already degraded and filled with poisonous chemicals, experts say.

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Much of the food in Africa, especially in the western region of the continent, is under threat by the importers of these poisons substances which come in mostly as pesticides.

These pesticides, according to experts, pose serious risks to human health and the environment, thus imperiling the health of innocent farmers and consumers.

According to available information, most of these chemicals being imported are all banned by the Western countries, and no wonder the majority of the food produced in Africa is rejected abroad for failing safety standards.

This is a worrisome situation as most are ignorant of the development and do not understand the full implications of the health hazards posed by the continued use of these farm inputs.

Malam Sanni Ismail, a farmer in Bauchi state, says he just uses fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides to increase his yields.

“Although I have heard people talk about the dangers of so many farm chemicals; I have been using them for years and I have not seen any negative effects on my health nor on my workers’.

Another farmer, Stephen Onuoha from Ohaukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi insists that the portion of land he owns is too small to adopt shifting cultivation making him to rely on chemical fertilisers for bounty harvests.

The farmers are don not seem to be particularly bothered about the chemical hazards in the food they grow and sell to consumers; their focus seem to be making as much financial gains as possible.

Observers say the producers of these chemicals know how harmful their products are but would nonetheless go ahead to produce them mainly in African markets.

This raises moral and logical questions: why produce these chemicals when you will not allow them to be used in your own countries?

Why reject the food produced with the using these chemicals if you think that there are not hazardous to human health?

The West African sub-region, as is indeed the rest of Africa, has long been a veritable ground for these harmful substances that come in the form of fertilizers and other farm inputs.

The proliferation of illnesses (most of which defy precise diagnosis) in this region, certainly calls for concerted efforts by stakeholders in the food and agriculture sector to rise to the situation of interrogating the substances.

But the question is who will bell the cat? Who will tell the ignorant farmer that the chemicals being marketed for bumper harvest are poisonous and carcinogenic?

Who will make the farmer understand that his life, the lives of his family members and those of their customers, are at risk?

Who will let the public know that those delicious foods on their plates are laced with residues of poison that gradually destroys their health?

Recently, ActionAid International brought together Journalists from across West Africa to brainstorm on promoting the principles of agroecology in the region as an alternative to the use of dangerous chemicals, harmful to our environment.

The event was organised through the Strategic Partnerships for Agroecology and Climate Justice in West Africa (SPAC-West Africa)

ActionAid in its engagement of regional media at the agroecology and climate justice webinar, said the call was to get the media to raise awareness on the dangers of chemical pesticides.

It was also geared towards promoting viable agricultural practices in Africa.

Mr Azubike Nwokoye, the ActionAid Nigeria Deputy Country Director and Food and Agriculture Programme Manager, said the programme was designed to enhance climate change and agriculture reporters’ knowledge on agroecology and climate justice.

He said the knowledge will enhance in-depth reportage and promotion of agroecology and climate justice.

This, he said, would in turn contribute towards the elimination of hazardous chemicals from our soil and thereby improve resilient nature-based solution towards food and nutrition security in the face of climate change in West Africa.

“The media will additionally, through increased reportage and promotion of agroecology, contribute to the integration of agroecology into government extension services at local, national, and regional levels.

“This is an innovation that will lead to scale and sustainability, promote equitable adaptation and transition measures that benefit frontline communities.”

At the event, Mr Donald Ikenna said that the burden of the negative effects of pesticides is felt most by the poor and vulnerable communities in countries that have less stringent enforcement mechanisms.

Ikanna, Program Coordinator, Heinrich Boell Foundation Nigeria, spoke on ‘The Challenges of Highly Hazardous Pesticides in West Africa and Agroecology as an Alternative’.

“WHO estimated that 1–5 million cases of pesticide poisoning occur every year among agricultural workers and result in 20,000 fatalities, most of these in developing nations.

“WHO self-assessment reports, show that a number of Member States including Burundi, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Zambia reported poisoning incidents from the use of hazardous pesticides.

“For example, pesticide-related poisoning events continue to occur countrywide in Kenya, with a total of 1,479 cases and 579 fatalities reported in 2012.

“In Uganda, pesticide poisoning incidents that occurred in 2012 in Wakiso and in 2013 in Pallisa caused a total of 87 fatalities, although data on pesticide-related deaths and cases are not systematically captured by the governments in the regions”, he said.

Ikenna said over the last five years, pesticide imports into Africa have increased significantly, adding that most of these harmful pesticides and herbicides were banned in developed countries.

He said that in West Africa, the imports of these chemicals have doubled in five years, from 218,948 tons in 2015 to 437,930 tons in 2020.

“In 2020, Nigeria’s imports alone (147,446 tons) exceeded the total imports of Southern Africa (87,403 tons) and North Africa (109,561 tons).

“Despite increasing imports in these regions, the informal nature of agricultural production has made it difficult to record how pesticides are used hence the big differences between the imported quantities and use data”, he said.

The level of ignorance among farmers and consumers concerning harmful pesticides and other farm inputs implies that the media have not done enough highlighting this key aspect of public health and climate justice.

It is therefore urgent and pertinent for the media to intensify the awareness on adopting agricultural and environmental policies that support agroecology and limit the use of toxic pesticides.

It is time to rethink agricultural practices on the African continent and favour approaches that respect the environment and human health.

In addition to media advocacy and farmer education, there is need to promote appropriate legislations on agroecology and to vigorously pursue their implementation.

 

News Agency of Nigeria.