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Opinions of Friday, 30 April 2021

Columnist: Afedzi Abdullah

How indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals is affecting nutrients absorption and contributing to malnutrition in Ghana

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals two talks about ending hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030. This is in recognition of the fact that nutrition could lay the foundation for peaceful and stable societies.

Agro-Chemical use

The use of chemicals in farming started somewhere in the 1940s with pesticides such as DDT which helped to increase yield because of destruction by pest and other diseases. The main idea was to increase food production because of the increasing population.

However, along the line, it was realised that the use of chemicals in farming was causing harm not only to human health but the environment. But despite this realisation, its use has continued unabated.

According to the GIZ, some 500 million tons of chemicals are produced, used and processed worldwide. The International Labour Organisation also estimates that 99 percent of all fatal accidents with agrochemicals occur in developing countries although only about 25 percent of the chemicals produced are used in the developing countries.

The use of agrochemicals, particularly pesticides, has become an integral part of the Ghanaian agricultural activities, being used on cash crops, cereals, fruits, and vegetable production.

There have also been concerns about the indiscriminate use of agrochemicals with non-adherence to safety precautions of agrochemical use by farmers.

Mr Peter Eshun is the Head of Plant Protection Directorate at the Ministry of Agriculture Development, Cape Coast Metro. He laments that from the 1990’s, the use of chemicals has increased and it was increasing year in year out.

‘Each year five million tons of pesticides are released into the environment and the consequences are far reaching’, Mr Eshun added and stressed the need to provide information on the risk and campaign for reducing the use of chemicals.

The use of chemicals in farming is increasing and unfortunately it adverse effect was also increasing on human health, environment and the soil as well.

‘As for its effect on the soil, we do not talk about it but studies have shown that it is affecting our soil, our crops, our water bodies, groundwater and even hair’, he said.

Farmers crave for agrochemicals as against organic farming

Mr Jacob Zanu is a Senior Nutrition and Quality Improvement Officer at the Agortime District Health Directorate of the Ghana Health Service. He noted that there was over-reliance on use of agrochemicals as opposed to use of purely organic farming practices.

Mr Zanu dissected the problem and noted that most farmers do not abide by good farming practices. Additionally, he stated that the farmers spray and harvest earlier than the stipulated number of days they should have waited.

Poor knowledge of farmers on the types of chemicals, their use and associated risks, ineffective governmental enforcement of pesticides’ regulations and strong incentives among pesticide traders and users to make profits have been reported leading to an increased use of cheap, mislabeled and adulterated agro-chemicals in Ghana.

‘Agrochemicals was making farming easier and as such its use was increasing. Therefore more education and training was required, Mr Eshun stated.


Another challenge, he said was the fact that farmers, especially in rural communities, do not have proper technical advice on use of chemicals and as such apply it in a way that exposes consumers to the chemicals used in farming.

Mr Eshun noted that though some education has gone out, it was increasingly becoming challenging getting the individual farmers to adhere to the safety measures.

Do agrochemicals have direct effect on crop nutrients?

Excessive use of agrochemicals by farmers, according to Mr Zanu said threatens food and nutrition security.

‘Now farmers apply these chemicals and they do not wait for stipulated period for the chemical to finish it work. They rush and harvest it for market with a lot of chemicals that could affect nutrients absorption’, he stated.

‘Several studies have suggested that the usage and population exposure to agrochemical impact health and the correlation with food and nutrition security, he added.

According to Mr Zenu, the agrochemicals did not react with nutrients in any way but the wrong handling of agrochemical made them food contaminants.

Mr Eshun also talks about the risk associated with the use of agrochemicals and said the mere use of the chemicals did not affect the nutritional value of the crops but consumers stood the chance of taking in more the chemicals.

Way-forward

The way forward, according to Mr Eshun was to begin to think organic.‘Now Europe is saying the future is organic, why are they saying. Why don’t we use natural chemicals, such as the ones from plants, the soil which is biodegradable’, he asked and called for more education on the matter.

This, he stressed could be achieved if stakeholder consider other alternatives such as bio-pesticides which may not be less harmful.

He also encouraged farmers to adopt integrated pest management systems by applying different farming methods and using chemicals as a last resort.

The MoFAD and EPA have to continue to encourage the marketing and use of bio-pesticides and encourage farmers to adopt farming practices that helped to minimise the use of chemicals.

More pesticide inspectors must be trained to monitor properly the activities of the dealers and ensure that they were selling the right type of chemicals, licensed and well trained.

For Mr Zanu, the situation called for strict enforcement of the law to ensure that farmers, chemical dealers and sellers and all relevant stakeholder complied with the law to safeguard the safety of food crops.

Again, he said regular education was needed to teach farmers to go back to adopt modern organic farming practices.

‘Farmers should be educated on the importance of adhering to safety standards of agrochemical use as it increases output’, he stressed.

‘There is risk associated with the chemical use and even there is still risk for consumers and passersby after use. So farmers have to be well trained on how to handle, use, and disposal’, Mr Eshun said.

Farmers have to be trained on handle, use and disposal of the containers,

Also, he stressed the need to change the orientation for farmers on correct use of agrochemicals.

He further proposed for farmers to be given periodic coaching and visit to farms while proper monitoring and evaluation was done for food crops.

Conclusion

Though Ghana’s nutrition situation has shown general trend of improvement, the observed improvements have occurred rather slowly and unequally across the population. The National Nutrition Policy aims at ensuring optimal nutrition for all people living in Ghana, to promote child survival, and to enhance capacity for economic growth and development therefore hangs in a balance.

However, the country still experiences a malnutrition burden especially among its under-five population although there had been some improvement. The inability to effectively address issues of food insecurity and infections have further hindered progress in reducing malnutrition.

Specific urgent actions, therefore, needs to be taken for the desired outcomes.

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