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For years stakeholders have been calling for a pesticide safety programme that will save lives and help reduce suicide. There are quite a few examples of such programmes that have been successful but the one usually touted is the Shri Lanka Hazard Reduction Program which reduced pesticide suicide in that nation by 50%+ in a decade.
The Sri Lankan model encompasses:
1. Introducing a minimum agro-chemicals list restricting the use of pesticides to a smaller number of pesticides least dangerous to humans.
2. Placing import restrictions to ensure that more dangerous chemicals do not enter the country.
3. Restricting the availability of agro-chemicals by ensuring they are stored safely in locked boxes in rural households, along with all equipment with which these pesticides are used.
4. Ensuring that empty containers are safely and effectively disposed of.
5. Restricting sale of agro-chemicals only to licensed premises and to licensed farmers.
6. Implementing administrative controls to ensure that sales outlets safely store all agro-chemicals.
7. Implementing an ongoing safe use policy to educate people about safe handling, use, storage and disposal. Concurrently, for small-scale farming, non-chemical methods, including organic farming, should be encouraged.
8. Improving medical management of pesticide poisoning: an important facet of control because better management will reduce the number of deaths. Requirements are the better availability of antidotes (both in central referral hospitals and ideally in peripheral health units) and ventilation facilities, better training, and better evidence for interventions.
9. Constantly monitoring all measures to ensure ongoing conformity, including random home visits to check for locked box storage and field visits to ensure that only licensed premises and licensed farmers have access to chemicals and that safe handling, use, storage and disposal are in effect.
In this context it was noteworthy that the National Agriculture Research and Extension Institute (NAREI), recently received 15 pesticide storage cabinets from the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board (PTCCB) to be handed over to farmers across the coconut-producing regions for the safe storage of monocrotophos.
These15 add to whatever number has been distributed over the years, and it was commendable that the Registrar of the PTCCB, Treica David, said that the PTCCB will be working with NAREI to ensure farmers and extension officers have a clear understanding of the requirements by which the chemicals should be used and stored. One must assume that the word ‘safely’ was inadvertently omitted from Ms. David’s statement.
At the handing over, Agriculture Minister Mustapha said that ‘stakeholders can rest assured knowing that government will continue to make the necessary investments in the sector to ensure farmers and their families are safe and that emerging industries like the coconut industry have the necessary support to reach their full potential.” One would hope that by this statement, the Minister means that all farmers who deal in all pesticides and agro chemicals will eventually receive such cabinets and trained in usage, storage and disposal safety as will all future agro extension officers so that the training can always be turnkeyed to future farmers since this needs to be an ongoing exercise.
As well one would hope that this safety training would include ensuring that only the most reliable person in each family keep the keep and/or combination to storage cabinet, that that individual is the only person who purchases the agro chemicals and that sellers are mandated to ensure that is so which may mean that those eligible purchasers may have to given some sort of identification with their names and photos.
Additionally, it makes sense that such an initiative be comprehensive in that the Ministry of Agriculture and the PTTCB must begin to implement a program to do away with life threatening agro chemicals as has been happening elsewhere.
This plan must, of necessity, include a widely publicized list of all banned agro chemicals. Additionally, potent agro-poisons such as gramoxone, the choice of poison in Guyana, must be added to that list. Gramoxone contains the lethal ingredient paraquat a substance banned in many nations across the globe. There is no known antidote and it has one of the highest death rates for poisons once ingested. While there has been no study on its usage in Guyana, a 1997 study by Dr. Daisley and Dr. Simmons on forensic analysis of acute poisonings in south Trinidad showed that of 105 deaths analyzed, almost 95 per cent were cases of suicide, and almost 80 per cent of deaths were due to paraquat. An analysis of international literature, especially a study in South Korea, shows that the introduction of national policies regulating and banning paraquat led to a significant decrease in pesticide-associated mortality. As well, both the Agriculture Ministry and the PTTCB must focus on enforcement to ensure that the current access to Gramoxone and other agro poisons in Guyana, by all and sundry, be eliminated and that the law limiting access only to persons who directly use them, be enforced across the board. The fact is that those who attempt suicide generally do not want to die, but ingestion of agro poisons effectively takes away from them that option to survive.
Finally alternatives (sustainable farming) to traditional should gradually be fostered not only in order to reduce use by also boost climate change initiatives. Among such alternatives currently making global headway are permaculture, biodynamic farming, hydroponics and aquaponics, urban agriculture, agroforestry and food forests, polycultures and crop rotation, heirloom and older varieties, natural pest management, mulching, groundcovers and manual weed control.