WITH hundreds of farmers in Jamaica experiencing pesticides poisoning at varying levels of severity each year, authorities are looking at ways to reduce its incidence.

A survey carried out in 2020 — conducted under a project administered by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) — recorded poisoning incidents of over 405 farmers across Jamaica and the health impacts of their exposure to these substances, the FAO said in a release on Thursday.

The organisation also said that, in many instances, the occurrences of pesticide poisoning remain unreported and unattended by expert medical practitioners.

With more than a thousand active ingredients found in the variety of pesticides available globally, the need to understand and constantly review the list of pesticides and safety measures for their use in Jamaica remains a crucial endeavour, the release said. So on March 31, more than 60 participants — including farmers, pesticides importers and distributors, technical officers from the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, the Pesticides Control Authority, the Caribbean Poison Information Network (CARPIN), and the ministries of health and wellness and agriculture and fisheries — met virtually to examine the findings of the survey. The FAO said the workshop aimed to share the experiences of farmers to inform and guide pesticide stakeholders in their planning for reducing pesticide poisoning.

FAO representative for Jamaica, Dr Crispim Moreira, highlighted that the report from the survey was among other FAO efforts to understand and address issues around pesticides use and management in Jamaica, such as controlling pesticides poisoning and promoting alternatives without affecting yields or farmer profits.

Pesticides poisoning

The survey revealed that the farmers interviewed had experienced mild to severe reactions from pesticide usage in the field. Although exposure to these hazardous chemicals pose a serious health risk, it was discovered that many farmers’ knowledge, attitudes and on-farm practices needed to be addressed in order to curtail the incidences of poisoning, the release said.

One farmer from the survey highlighted that although he experienced serious skin burns from pesticides used, the need to use the chemicals to ensure better yields and income superseded his concerns for health. Participants agreed that the need to understand these attitudes was crucial in reducing the serious health implications of pesticide use and further examination of how the country will address these issues.

The toxicity of pesticides being used by farmers, the inadequate use of personal protective equipment (PPEs), non-adherence to instructions for usage, and improper use of pesticides were among some of the reasons identified for increasing the risk of poisoning, the release continued. In many cases, the need to review the active ingredients in the pesticides being used and increased enforcement of approved chemicals, in accordance with guiding multilateral environmental agreements like the Rotterdam Convention, was also highlighted.

Gerold Wyrwal from the Rotterdam Convention said that farmers and farm workers these days have neither smart working arrangements nor virtual meetings, they have to face two issues threatening their families’ lives: a pandemic and pesticide formulations causing harm to their health and environment. The objective of the FAO activity is, therefore, to assist national authorities to consider pesticide risk mitigation measures.

According to Wyrwal, Jamaica acceded to the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for certain hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in international trade in 2002 and has since taken regulatory action in the ban of certain active ingredients used in some pesticides.

The way forward

Several recommendations for addressing pesticides poisoning at the industry, regulatory and consumer level in Jamaica were discussed by the group, among them, enhancing the monitoring of pesticide exposure, increasing farmers’ training in the use of pesticides, manufacturing less toxic pesticides, and pesticide users’ adherence to pesticide labelling instructions.

The FAO said a second phase of the workshop is expected to take place, at which the Pesticides Review Committee will review the list of active ingredients in pesticides highlighted by the survey as causing significant health problems to the farmers, and the Pesticides Safety Committee will review farmer knowledge, attitudes and practices to develop a plan of action for curtailing pesticides poisoning in Jamaica.

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