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Toxic Pesticides a Safety and Health Concern for African Farmers

This is the third in a series of five reports on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) in Africa. GAP is a product of many institutions involved in agricultural interests. It’s used to increase farm productivity, improve quality and expand markets. This report is on the health and safety aspects, primarily of farm workers. Voice of America's Cole Mallard reports.

An agricultural health and safety expert in Uganda says acutely toxic pesticides are the number one health and safety concern in following GAP guidelines. Omara Amuko is the Uganda-based health, safety and environment coordinator for the International Union of Food (IUF). He says one pesticide in particular, Paraquate (also: Paraquat) “is a very big issue among agricultural workers because it’s acutely toxic and causes a lot of poisoning among the workers because there is no antidote.” He adds that workers in Uganda generally don’t have appropriate protective equipment and that spraying equipment is often substandard and sometimes leaks.


Amuko says the Ugandan government has passed a new agricultural protocol aimed at protecting workers in Uganda, but the government does not enforce it. He adds that in some countries farm workers are not covered by any law at all. He says the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention no. 184 on health and safety in agriculture spells out the obligations of governments as well as the rights and responsibilities of workers. He says, for example, that farm supervisors are supposed to assess operational risk, then devise the best way for directing health and safety procedures. The government is also supposed to inspect employers and enforce the law.

Amuko says in the view of the workers, GAP should be concerned more with the social than the economic aspects of agriculture. He says farmers may measure GAP in terms of profitability, but the workers are more concerned with exposure to poisons, climate conditions and long hours.


Amuko says, “Globally, agriculture is one of the most hazardous occupations, alongside mining and construction.” He says 170,000 is a conservative estimate of the number of work-related deaths every year among agricultural workers.

Amuko says even though agriculture is the backbone of Africa’s economy, only Sao Tome and Principe has ratified the convention that promotes agricultural health and safety, adding that big countries like Nigeria and South Africa have not.

Amuko says, “It is really ironical that those who feed the world…go hungry because they cannot feed themselves.” He says there are no permanent jobs and employment is all seasonal, contract work, “so the future of the [agricultural] worker is really at stake.” Amuko says there should be a concerted legal effort to recognize their contribution.

He says child labor “in agriculture should be totally banned; [it’s] not acceptable at all.”