Have you ever thought on the difficulties faced in many developing countries in the use of synthetic pesticides? Do you know that Africa is one of the regions where pesticides cause the most damage to rural populations? The communities living and working with pesticides in poor rural areas are at greatest risk from health effects of these chemicals. The risks these communities take are exacerbated by the circumstances of their relative poverty, lack of effective regulation systems, illiteracy and limited availability of appropriate information and training.
The agrochemicals pesticides used to control the cotton pests are often acutely toxic, with potential to cause serious adverse health effects. In West Africa, all members of cotton farming households are regularly exposed to cotton pesticides because these are frequently used in an unsafe manner and without understanding of their hazards. Cotton workers often store pesticides at their homes, apply chemicals to cotton crops in improvised containers made with their own utensils and re-use the empty pesticide containers as water vessels. Pesticide poisoning is a serious problem in cotton growing areas in Mali and Senegal.
Thanks to the funding received from the Quick Start Programme Trust Fund, the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Africa implemented a number of activities with communities in Mali and Senegal to raise awareness and build capacity of civil society organizations and local communities to reduce risks related to pesticides use in agricultural and health sector, and to monitor and gather data on pesticide use and incidents of exposure to chemicals.
Community-based monitoring surveys to gather data on pesticide use, incidents of exposure to chemicals, retail of chemicals and advertisement by the chemical companies were undertaken.
Awareness-raising materials, such as a 20-minute documentary were developed and distributed to farmers and partners.
“We, producers, live daily with pesticide-related risks. Some producers, after treating and during the treatment of their farms with pesticides, eat and smoke without washing their hands clean. We, some years later, notice their health deteriorating. Moreover, livestock die after grazing in cotton fields treated with pesticides.” Yaya Diallo, cotton producer - Velingara, Senegal
The project mobilized in both countries 20 local non-governmental organizations dealing with environment protection, pesticides and pollution issues, as well as producers unions and associations, and State technical services.
“We initially used the same pesticide to treat our cotton farms and market gardening crops unaware of the dangers it posed. But, during the capacity-building sessions, after seeing the pictures that were shown to us, we changed that bad practice. We are now well aware of pesticide-related dangers. We now ask men to treat our farms. They have all the required necessary equipment and they protect themselves. The project was really useful to us.” Mamina Dembele, cotton producer - Koutiala, Mali
“The project came in on time. When I was contacted to choose field guides who had to be trained for our community, I emphasized the fact that they should be young and able to carry out their work properly and, also, they should be able to widely share their knowledge with the population. The project is very important to us because the people use a lot of pesticides. There is need for people to be aware of the hazards and the precautions to be taken when using them. If we inform and sensitize them, it will be a very good thing for the community as a whole. We would like the project to last 2 to 3 more years in order to reinforce assets and involve other people.” Oumar Sabaly, President of the rural community - Bonkoto, Senegal
The most important take-away of the project was the increased interest by national and local actors in the major concerns relating to the use of pesticides and, especially, the reuse of empty containers by producers and local communities; recognition that there is need for core facilitators and field guides with better knowledge of pesticide use and the capacity to provide training and counselling support to local actors; and the importance of partnerships and multi-stakeholder involvement and collaboration.
“Thanks to the various awareness campaigns in the course of the project, people are more careful and try to better manage pesticide storage and treatment procedures.” Yaya Diallo, cotton producer - Velingara, Senegal