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Effects of hazardous agro pesticides

By Adedotun Ajayi

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Pesticides are widely used in agricultural production to prevent or control pests, diseases, weeds, and other plant pathogens in an effort to reduce or eliminate yield losses and maintain high product quality.

Although pesticides are developed through very strict regulation processes to function with reasonable certainty and minimal impact on human health and the environment, serious concerns have been raised about health risks resulting from occupational exposure and from residues in food and drinking water.

According to an European report, 65 percent of pesticides used by farmers in Africa’s biggest economy on their farmlands are hazardous to human health.

Nigeria ranked highest among six other countries that had their pesticides reviewed for levels of harmful residues, according to the report put together by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Friend of the Earth Europe, and Pesticides Action Network.

“In 2021, 65 percent of all pesticides used in four states of Nigeria were highly hazardous,” the report stated.

The report noted that bean samples from Nigeria showed high levels of contamination, containing up to 0.3 milligrams per kilogram of dichlorvos. In contrast, the legal limit in Europe is 0.01 milligrams.

Since 2015 till date, the European Union’s ban on Nigerian beans has remained, on account of containing a high level of pesticide considered harmful to health.

“Dichlorvos can cause difficulties breathing, diarrhoea, and vomiting among other effects,” the report titled ‘Pesticide Atlas – Facts and Figures About Toxic Chemicals in Agriculture’ stated.

The report found that elevated levels of pesticide residues were also detected in Nigeria’s tomato samples, including traces of permethrin.

According to the report, the US Environmental Protection Agency classified “permethrin” insecticide as “probably carcinogenic” – capable of causing cancer.

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Generally, Nigeria’s foods have over the years been found to be containing pesticides in high percentages, considered highly hazardous, and this remains the strongest point for the rejection of Nigeria’s foods in the international market.

This is in line with Mojisola Adeyeye, director general of NAFDAC public lamentation last month, that over 70 percent of food exports from Nigeria are rejected abroad, with huge financial losses to exporters and the country.

In Africa likewise, the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent, pesticide use jumped by 67.8 percent in 2020 from 1999, despite regulations.

According to Adeyeye, there is a need for more enhanced regulation of export packaging, pre-shipment testing, and certification, to provide quality assurance and minimise rejects, and has called on all stakeholders in export trade to see the plague as a call to duty and collaborate with NAFDAC.

In response to this, Osita Aboloma, chairman/chief executive of the National Quality Council (NQC), announced in Abuja last month said that the federal government has established the NQC as part of efforts to tackle and mitigate the persistent rejections of Nigeria’s export products in the international market “which has now become an emergency.”

Experts suggest a proper and wholesome process of supervision across the entire value chain (from farmers to export markets) in order “to get the ban on our beans lifted and pave the way for admitting Nigeria produce for export.”

In the same vein, Nathanial Richards, Lecturer at the federal university of agriculture, Abeokuta said to guide against the effects of hazardous agricultural pesticides, there is a need for public awareness, i.e educate farmers, consumers, and communities about the risks of hazardous pesticides and safer alternatives, because minimizing the use of hazardous pesticides not only protects human health and the environment but also contributes to sustainable and resilient agricultural practices.

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According to him; “farmers should adopt Integrated Pest Management, it is the practices that focus on using a combination of pest control strategies, like biological control, cultural practices, and targeted pesticide use. This practice would definitely minimize risks to human health and the environment” he said.

Moving forward, he said “carefully reading and following pesticide labels for correct usage is one of the most important steps in guiding against effects of hazardous Agro pesticides, like the application rates, the safety precautions, and proper disposal methods” he concluded.

On the contrary, Adewumi Adeshola, an Agric economist said pesticides can improve the nutritional value of food and sometimes its safety. Also there are many other kinds of benefits that may be attributed to pesticides, but these benefits often go unnoticed by the general public.

According to her; “Often, pesticide applications prove counterproductive because they kill beneficial species such as natural enemies of pests and increase the chances of development of pest resistance to pesticides. Furthermore, many end users have poor knowledge of the risks associated to the use of pesticides, including the essential role of the correct application and the necessary precautions. Even farmers who are well aware of the harmful effects of pesticides are sometimes unable to translate this awareness into their practices, on this note, farmers needs sensitization and public awareness” she said.

Also, Adeolu Emmanuel, a crop farmer in his submission said, the term pesticide covers a wide range of compounds including insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, rodenticides, molluscicides, nematicides, plant growth regulators and others.

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According to him; “Tremendous benefits have been derived from the use of pesticides in forestry, public health and the domestic sphere and, of course, in agriculture, a sector upon which the Nigerian economy should largely depend on, Pesticides have been an integral part of the process by reducing losses from the weeds, diseases and insect pests that can markedly reduce the amount of harvestable produce” he said.

“Although, there is now overwhelming evidence that some of these chemicals do pose a potential risk to humans and other life forms and unwanted side effects to the environment. No segment of the population is completely protected against exposure to pesticides and the potentially serious health effects, though a disproportionate burden, is shouldered by the people and by high risk groups in the country, the high risk groups exposed to pesticides include production workers, formulators, sprayers, mixers, loaders and agricultural farm workers” he concluded

Ayanleye Ayodeji, a public health educator said the negative health effects associated with some pesticide use include respiratory, integumentary, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and neurological problems.

According to him; “Pesticide poisonings on farms around the globe have risen dramatically since the last global assessments made 33 years ago. More than 385 million cases of acute pesticide poisonings happen annually worldwide, causing around 11,000 fatalities, a study by “BMC Public Health” revealed. And based on worldwide farming populations of approximately 860 million, this means that about 44 percent of farmers are poisoned by pesticides every year, that definitely doesn’t sound good. It’s shocking that this problem has gotten worse rather than better over the past 33 years.”

“Pesticide poisonings are a public health crisis that must be addressed” he said.

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