A pesticide safety programme

Dear Editor,
For years stakeholders have been calling for a pesticide safety programme that will save lives and help reduce suicide. There are quite a few examples of such programmes that have been successful but the one usually touted is the Sri Lanka Hazard Reduction Programme which reduced pesticide suicide in that nation by 50 per cent+ in a decade.
It was noteworthy that the National Agriculture Research and Extension Institute (NAREI), recently received 15 pesticide storage cabinets from the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board (PTCCB) to be handed over to farmers across the coconut-producing regions for the safe storage of monocrotophos.
These 15 add to whatever number has been distributed over the years, and it was commendable that the Registrar of the PTCCB, Treica David, said that the PTCCB will be working with NAREI to ensure farmers and extension officers have a clear understanding of the requirements by which the chemicals should be used and stored. One must assume that the word “safely” was inadvertently omitted from Ms David’s statement.
At the handing over, Agriculture Minister Mustapha said that “stakeholders can rest assured knowing that Government will continue to make the necessary investments in the sector to ensure farmers and their families are safe and that emerging industries like the coconut industry have the necessary support to reach their full potential.” One would hope that by this statement, the Minister means that all farmers who deal in all pesticides and agrochemicals will eventually receive such cabinets and trained in usage, storage and disposal safety as will all future agro extension officers so that the training can always be turnkeyed to future farmers since this needs to be an ongoing exercise.
As well, one would hope that this safety training would include ensuring that only the most reliable person in each family keep the key and/or combination to storage cabinet, that that individual is the only person who purchases the agrochemicals and that sellers are mandated to ensure that is so which may mean that those eligible purchasers may have to give some sort of identification with their names and photos.
Additionally, it makes sense that such an initiative be comprehensive in that the Ministry of Agriculture and the PTCCB must begin to implement a programme to do away with life-threatening agrochemicals as has been happening elsewhere.
This plan must, out of necessity, include a widely publicised list of all banned agrochemicals. Additionally, potent agro-poisons such as gramoxone, the choice of poison in Guyana, must be added to that list. Gramoxone contains the lethal ingredient paraquat – a substance banned in many nations across the globe. There is no known antidote and it has one of the highest death rates for poisons once ingested. While there has been no study on its usage in Guyana, a 1997 study by Dr Daisley and Dr Simmons on forensic analysis of acute poisonings in south Trinidad showed that of 105 deaths analysed, almost 95 per cent were cases of suicide, and almost 80 per cent of deaths were due to paraquat. An analysis of international literature, especially a study in South Korea, shows that the introduction of national policies regulating and banning paraquat led to a significant decrease in pesticide-associated mortality. As well, both the Agriculture Ministry and the PTCCB must focus on enforcement to ensure that the current access to gramoxone and other agro poisons in Guyana, by all and sundry, be eliminated and that the law limiting access only to persons who directly use them, be enforced across the board. The fact is that those who attempt suicide generally do not want to die, but ingestion of agro poisons effectively takes away from them the option to survive.
Finally, alternatives (sustainable farming) to traditional should gradually be fostered not only in order to reduce use but also to boost climate change initiatives. Among such alternatives currently making global headway are permaculture, biodynamic farming, hydroponics and aquaponics, urban agriculture, agroforestry and food forests, polycultures and crop rotation, heirloom and older varieties, natural pest management, mulching, groundcovers and manual weed control.
Annan Boodram