Exposure to chemical pesticides has been closely linked to various health complications, especially cancer.
Various studies, such as one conducted by researchers at the public health institute, the California Department of Health Services and the UC Berkeley School of Public Health in 2007, provide mounting evidence of some pesticides being responsible of causing various health hazards, ranging from short term impacts like headaches and dizziness to the more chronic effects like the endocrine and nerve disruption.
Pesticides are also closely linked to an array of illnesses such as asthma, leukemia, brain cancer and breast cancer and even birth defects as well as a six-fold chance of developing Autism Spectrum Disorders for children whose mothers have been exposed to organochlorine pesticides.
On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine of a world where farmers are stripped off their defence against pests and diseases, some of which have proved capable of destroying up to a 100 per cent of crops yields.
The insurgence of new pests such as tuta absoluta, for instance, has literally pushed farmers to their ultimate defence. Many have resulted to using harsh chemicals to suppress the pests which are developing resistance to the same chemicals at an alarming rate. Unable to contain the menace, many have turned to frequent spraying of their crops, while others are combating the developing challenge by all unorthodox of ways, including the use of inapt acaricides to try and kill nasty bugs on crops like cucumbers and wheat.
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What perhaps the farmers do not know; is that many of the chemicals they are using contain very high Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs), which means that they are not easily degradable, and are of terrible consequences when consumed by humans. The same chemicals also find their way in to the environment, where they cause massive destruction of the ecosystem, by killing the useful microorganisms as well as the friendly insects such as bees and butterflies which are useful for the pollination of their crops.
The hazardous chemicals are also destructive to the natural enemies of common pests like aphids, and as such, their elimination leaves the farmer on his own, fighting the prolific pests without the help of Mother Nature. This only worsens the situation, which calls for more intense use of the chemicals on the crops and in return making the situation even direr.
It is a worrying cycle of events, a catch 22 situation. But at the end of it, the extra chemicals are washed into the water bodies, much of which ends up in our cooking pots and water bottles. On that note, there is need for stern measures to control pesticide use in the developed world.
Many countries have taken the bold step of dealing with the dreadful menace by putting in place stringent measures to controlling pesticide use. In many developed countries, for example, a keen interest is taken to ensure that chemical-ridden vegetables and fruits do not find their way into the common man’s plate. Exporters are thus required to adhere to strict Euro GAP standards to access the highly regulated western market.
Vigorous campaigns have also been used to educate citizens on the possible consequences of unregulated use of pesticides for food production. In Africa, the trend is also quickly gaining speed. As a result, organic foods are quickly becoming the preference of many, whom often go out of their way to look out for the “organic” label on the products on offer.
Organic option of pest control
Many companies have also come up with ingenious ways of giving the farmers an organic option of pest control. Some of these products include pheromone-based traps, food bait killers and viruses among others.
“The products are target specifics, meaning that they only kill the harmful pests and leave the others totally unharmed” explains Chris Kolenberg, the CEO of Kenya Biologics.
Kolenberg explains that since the products have absolutely no MRL, they are completely safe for use on food products and do not cause any hazardous effects on the water or air.
The biological methods of control are not only safe and convenient but also effective in dealing with troublesome pests that are difficult to control by the conventional chemicals.
A notable case is that of the notorious tuta absoluta, an emerging pest in Kenya that is capable of destroying up to a 100 per cent of the crop, in a flash.
The use of pheromone based traps has been able to contain the situation, by trapping and killing the pest, which bores inside the crop, thus limiting chemical targets extensively. Similar products have also been effective in controlling of diamondback moth, which can be extensively destructive in cabbages, broccoli and other related crops.
Tomato ‘al Shabaab’
Most biological products are also cheap in the long run. The cost of the “ Tutracks” ( used to trap and kill male tuta absoluta), for example, comes down significantly after the initial purchase, since the farmers do not need to purchase the plastic casing of the trap.
“Farmers have also devised ingenious ways of cutting the cost of the pheromone-based traps. They improvise the plastic cover by using the ordinary 5 litre jerry-can,” Kolenberg says.
Other farmers are even using water traps and pheromone bait to catch the destructive miner, commonly known as the tomato “Al Shabaab”, thanks to the trail of devastating results it leaves behind whenever it comes calling.
Kenya Biologics are not the only providers of the organic pest control options in Kenya though. There are numerous companies that offer different products in the market. Whatever pest a farmer is battling with, there sure is a non-chemical way of dealing with it.
So as Kenyans wait for the government to wake up and protect consumers from the unregulated use of chemicals gravely hurting both our health and environment; farmers must take lead in protecting the health of their customers, one at a time.
And who knows, the bold move of switching to organic farming may be saving you or your loved one from the scourge of cancer or many other health hazards that scientists have linked to the chemical components often left lingering in our food and environment.