Food security has long been a challenge in Lesotho, and with a growing population, the onset of climate change and the prospect of increased drought, it requires refocused attention. One of the strategies employed by the Government to increase crop yields has been to promote the use of herbicides, and drought-resistant ‘no-till’ farming techniques. However, the success of these programmes is critically limited by a lack of knowledge of the proper use of herbicides among smallholder farmers, staff and agro-dealers.
One project, funded by the Quick Start Programme Trust Fund, entitled ‘Strengthening the capacity of smallholder farmers, extension staff and agro-dealers on judicious use of herbicides’, helped to increase the knowledge of the safe use of herbicides and other pesticides among these key groups to improve crop outcomes, protect the health of communities and prevent damage to the environment.
While developing countries use approximately 25% of the world’s pesticides, they experience 99% of deaths linked to pesticides1. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, smallholder farmers produce 80% of the food in Sub-Saharan Africa2. It is therefore critically important that the knowledge of safe use of pesticides among smallholder farmers in this region is improved. Common unsafe practices include decanting pesticides into unlabeled beverage bottles, using empty pesticide containers to transport drinking water, and failing to use proper protective equipment while spraying. There is also a lack of awareness about the risks posed to women who are often responsible for washing clothes used while spraying, and to children who may be in the fields while spraying occurs. Pesticides can be up to ten times more toxic for children than for adults, and the impact of pesticide exposure can include birth defects, cancer, neurodevelopment issues and hormonal issues3 4.
Ms. Rorisang Mantutle, an officer from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security and the QSP project coordinator, said that ‘farmers, extension workers and agro-dealers lacked knowledge on the general use of pesticides [in Lesotho]. Farmers were generally seen using herbicides without proper protective clothing and using brooms and twigs to apply herbicides. This placed them at great risk of pesticide poisoning and increased herbicides residues in the soil.’
The Quick Start Programme project had two key areas of activity: training sessions for relevant parties, and the production of accessible information materials.
The training sessions were held in 2015 and 2016, and involved 202 key personnel, including as district staff, farmers, traders, environment officers and machinery officers. These trainings were generally well received.
Mr. Lekhetho Senoko, a farmer from Ha Ntsi, said ‘I found these trainings very useful because they opened our eyes to a lot of things we were not aware of. After the trainings, I was able to train other farmers from my village to use herbicides properly and apply them at the correct time, use proper protective clothing to avoid possible entry of pesticides into the body. These trainings were very helpful because incidences of pesticide poising have dropped considerably among farmers that received the trainings. Farmers are now aware of the negative effects on human health and environment that can result from improper use of pesticides.’
The second key component of this project was the production of informational materials, including a compendium of weeds in Lesotho and the best herbicides to use. This document included detailed images, and was available in the local language. Other material, such as simple posters, addressed correct calibration of sprayers, ‘dos and don’ts when handling herbicides’, and hazard classification.
These activities, when combined, have contributed to creating a safer and more productive agricultural sector in Lesotho. However, upscaling of the trainings is needed to reach all the farming communities and agro-dealers. The tools developed over the course of this project will be useful into the future for continued educational efforts, contributing to improved food security and a healthier population.
1- World Health Organization, ‘Pesticides: Children’s health and the environment – WHO training package for the health sector’, WHO, Geneva, July 2008, www.who.int/ceh/capacity/Pesticides.pdf
2- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, ‘Putting Family Farmers First to Eradicate Hunger’, FAO, Rome, 16 October 2014, www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/260535/icode/
3- United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), ‘Understanding the Impacts of Pesticides on Children’, January 2019 , www.unicef.org/csr/files/Understanding_the_impact_of_pesticides_on_children-_Jan_2018.pdf
4- Roberts, James R., and Catherine J. Karr, ‘Technical Report: Pesticide exposure in children’, Pediatrics, vol. 130, no. 6, December 2012, pp. e1765–e1788.