Olga Dicko is a teacher in Kalo, in the Sahel area of Burkina Faso, 40 kilometres from Dori. Here, she grows a variety of vegetables with 60 other women. They are a farming association called Endam, which means “family” in the local language. In their two-hectare field, the women produce cowpea and sesame.
Parasites and pests threaten to destroy their crops, but these women use pesticides to ensure a good harvest. Unfortunately, pesticides also pose risks. They can be dangerous to the health of farmers and consumers.
The women use pesticides made in Burkina Faso meant for vegetable and fruit crops. To avoid handling these dangerous chemicals, the women are supported by agricultural technicians. Mrs. Olga Dicko explains, “Last year, we used pesticides in our field. On the advice from a [pesticide applicator] we do not handle the pesticides.”
Romaric Zongo is the chief of technical assistance in the Bami area, and supports the association. He explains: “For the use of pesticides, a [pesticide applicator] is in charge of spraying the crops to make sure that the women of the association do not use them themselves because of the dangerousness of the products.”
Knowing the consequences, Mr. Zongo says he discourages the women from handling the pesticides. The farmers could suffer secondary effects of pesticide use, although there haven’t been any cases in his region so far. Yet, he says that he has heard of some cases, shared by technicians in other regions.
To avoid contact with the pesticides, the women of Endam finish ploughing and weeding their field before it is sprayed. Then, Mrs. Olga Dicko explains, they call the pesticide applicator to actually do the spraying. This technician is paid 10,000 FCFA (about $17 US) to spray the two hectares.
The vice-president of the association is Aïchatou Dicko. She adds: “Even after spraying, the members of the association do not go back to their fields from one week up to 10 days after the treatment with pesticides—the necessary time for the effects of the chemical products to disappear.”
Mrs. Olga Dicko adds: “This [policy] taught by the technicians allowed the women of Endam to be not only protected from the harmful effects of pesticides, but also to [successfully] fight against parasites and pests.”
Using pesticides has health risks for farmers and their families. Breathing or ingesting the product can cause headaches or stomach aches. The chemicals can also trigger a skin rash or an irritation. Frequent or acute, high-level exposure can also cause more serious illnesses, including cancer.
This is why it is important to wear protective equipment, such as a mask, gloves, long shirt, long pants, and shoes when preparing the pesticide, when spraying, and when disposing of pesticide containers.
For Mr. Zongo, the alternative to pesticides is using homemade, organic products. He mentions a liquid mixture of leaves or seeds from neem, garlic, and ground, dried chili. This mixture is packed in one-litre cans and sprayed in the same manner as other pesticides.
Mr. Zongo says that some farmers who have already used this mixture confirm its effectiveness against pests. He also adds that organic manure is an alternative to chemical fertilizers to ensure that soils contain enough nutrients for crops to best develop.
He hopes the men and women farmers continue to explore developing and using organic products in order to protect their health.
This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.
Photo : Pesticides being applied.