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Farmers, other agric workers require masks to reduce exposure to toxic pesticides

By: By Ama Amankwah Baafi
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As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads around the world, masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) have been hard to come by, even for those who need them most.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the crisis has driven demand for  PPE, 100 times higher than normal. Even with dramatic increases in production, manufacturers have said they will be unable to meet demand for the foreseeable future.

But it is not just healthcare workers and other care providers who need PPE. It is also vital for the safety of workers in a host of other industries, including agriculture.

Safe use of pesticides and agricultural chemicals require knowing how to use, handle and store them in order to minimise exposure and handle accidents.

Most of the pesticides used in agriculture can impact respiratory health.

Operators in the agric sector routinely encounter pesticides on the job and some of these widely used pesticides pose serious health risks.

Masks to the rescue

Masks can be vital to help minimise the risk as they protect all farm workers too. These are often part of a broader PPE kit that can include respiratory protection, gloves, headgear and body, foot and eye protection. 

Experts say the proper use of a recommended mask reduces risks. So far, there seem to be limited guidance on how actors in the sector, especially smallholder farmers, can get access to PPE.

 Experts say that the use of pesticide require the use of masks and other PPE which farmers and farm workers must adhere to.

The International Labour Organisation’s Code of Practice on Safety and Health in Agriculture states that the first line of defence against health effects caused by pesticides should be eliminating or reducing exposure to the hazard and that PPE should be used


What should farmers and farm workers do?

The West Africa Regional Coordinator of the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI), Dr Victor Attuquaye Clottey, has recommended that Ghana adhere to conventions on the use of chemicals for crop production in the long term.

He cited the Global Harmonised Systems (GHS) of labelling chemicals, which set out the details of the principles for internationally effective chemical safety for use, particularly in agriculture.

In an interview, he said, “it is necessary to stick to the protocols which all tell the hazards that farmers and consumers carry so it can be taken into consideration in relation to what is allowed into the country, how to use it well to solve the problem of excessive use and misuse of chemicals.”

The CABI is engaged in science-based work to support agricultural production and trade, and correspondingly increase economic opportunities in Africa and beyond.

Dr Clottey said the issue of excessive use and misuse of chemicals was serious because of lack of knowledge about the chronic effect of most of the active ingredients in such chemicals.

“We don’t have information about its long-term effect on us. Most of the information we have is the immediate, but the one you are inhaling now and what it will do to you in your old age and your unborn child, those ones we are not aware off,” he indicated.

Extension services
Agric experts say the production context is transforming with the improvement in science such that agro chemicals are not the simple chemicals that were known.

‘Therefore, agric extension officers need to understand to be able to explain to our farmers and other relevant stakeholders in the agric sector.

“With the new conventions and hazards, they need to know and understand to share with the farmers. Thus, the dialogue so they can relay it to the ultimate,” he stated.