Conclusions on pesticide-health surveys

(November 2002)

Farmers observe spray session
Farmers observe each other during spraying sessions.

Two farmer groups (vegetable growers in Kanchanaburi, mango growers in Phitsanulok) conducted pesticide-health surveys in their own community. The results are presented on these pages:

Farmers’ opinion

After conducting the surveys, the farmers concluded that the results from their survey give only a limited impression of the pesticide use in their community. For example the vegetable growers in Kanchanaburi gave the example that while out of 19 farmers only 3 were found to use Alachlor, in fact all 19 do use Alachlor at some time during the year.

The types of pesticides used and the volume used depends on the crop stage and the season. Farmers concluded that the surveys provide only a snapshot and that to be more accurate it would be required to monitor pesticide use over a longer period of time.

Both farmer groups have decided to continue their surveys and to expand the program. They want that more farmers in their community receive similar training on conducting pesticide-health surveys.

Conclusion

A large part of the success of the surveys carried out by the farmers should be contributed to the training methodology used. The participatory and practical way of working stimulated the farmers to become actively involved and helped them take ownership of the survey. The farmers were not being studied, but they conducted the study. They collected their own data, analyzed these data, and presented the results to other farmers.

This approach is of direct benefit to the farmers themselves, but it can also be of interest to government agencies such as the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Agriculture.

Existing health statistics on pesticide poisoning include only the most serious cases that are brought to the attention of hospitals and health clinics, many of which are suicide attempts. Thousands of cases of occupational poisoning have never entered the statistics, as farmers don’t seek medical attention for relatively minor symptoms. Existing health statistics therefore seriously underestimate the problems caused by pesticides.

Thus these data collected by farmers give a much clearer picture of pesticide related problems than currently existing “official” statistics. Use of this methodology at a larger scale will give a better indication of how pesticides are poisoning the health of farmers.

The Thai government is trying to reduce problems caused by pesticides by regulating their use, which includes banning the use of certain high-risk chemicals. Already 81 pesticides are banned. Another 13 pesticides are on a watch-list, as there is serious doubt about their safety.* The data collected by the farmers in Kanchanaburi and Phitsanulok reveal that several of the banned chemicals are still being used. The data also show that use of chemicals of the watch-list is very common. The resulting cases of moderate pesticide poisoning show the urgent need for the government to take action by implementing existing laws and to consider banning more of the most toxic pesticides.

But even more urgent is the need to educate our farmers about the dangers of pesticides. Understanding the risks is the first step towards reducing the risks. Providing them with IPM training is a logical next step, which will help them to reduce pesticide use and find safer crop management practices.

* Note: These pesticide-health surveys were conducted in November 2002. In early 2003 the Thai government banned Methamidophos. In October 2004 Methyl parathion and Endosulfan were banned. The total number of banned pesticides was then 84.