Nelly Bassily | April 21, 2008
Makoura Tuo lost her husband to the armed rebellion in Ivory Coast. Then, when the conflict caused farm supply stores to close, she lost her health to dangerous pesticides.
Mrs. Tuo used to grow onions, carrots, and cabbage on her farm in Bouaké. When she lost access to her regular supplier, she began purchasing unfamiliar pesticides from a dealer who came to her door. One day, she lost consciousness while spraying her crops. When she woke up, she was in the hospital.
But with nine children to feed, Mrs. Tuo could not afford to stop farming. She continued to grow vegetables and use the pesticides that were available. Only when she lost consciousness for a second time did a doctor tell her that she must stop, or the pesticides would kill her. Mrs. Tuo no longer uses pesticides, but she continues to suffer breathing problems.
An estimated 65 per cent of illnesses among Ivorian fruit, vegetable, and cotton producers are related to pesticides. François N’klo Hala is an entomologist at the Centre National de Recherche Agronomique, which made this finding. He says this number is even higher in areas controlled by rebels.
Currently, rebels occupy much of northern Ivory Coast. Farmers in these areas have lost access to the chemical pesticides they knew. And programs to teach farmers about safe pesticide use are unable to reach them.
Many farmers say their health problems began after the armed rebellion started. Minata Soro has been growing vegetables for some fifteen years, but, in 2003, pesticides started to make her sick. It began with nose bleeds and headaches. Her new pesticide dealer told her to drink milk, but that didn’t help. She eventually sought medical care and recovered. However, her son was born with a malformed hand that could not be rehabilitated.
Women who use unsafe pesticides face a higher risk of infertility, miscarriages, and giving birth to children with birth defects. There is also an increased risk of leukemia, brain cancer, and lung cancer.
Ivory Coast’s Ministry of Agriculture says it will re-instate pesticide safety programs in the north as the government re-takes rebel strongholds. In the meantime, it offers some practical advice. Farmers should use only those pesticides that have been approved by the government. Pesticides should be applied following package directions, and farmers should observe the prescribed amount of time between applying pesticides and eating or selling food. Farmers should also wash their bodies after applying or handling pesticides. Finally, pesticides should never be stored near food or in living areas.
The Ministry of Agriculture has announced that it will seize and destroy unsafe pesticides and food produced with unsafe pesticides.