Ensuring supply of safe vegetables

Winter is the best time of the year in Bangladesh for consumption of vegetables and winter time for this country has arrived. The supply of vegetables in the winter time is found to be particularly good in terms of price and variety. Health conscious people in the country are also more and more taking an interest to replace meats in their diets with vegetables.
Therefore, at a time when consumption of vegetables in the country are clearly on the rise, it indeed comes as disappointing that vegetable producers and their handlers at different levels in the distribution chain are resorting to large scale use of pesticides in the fields to preserve the vegetables and at secondary levels the handlers are using various chemicals to artificially lend colour or appearance of freshness to such vegetables.
Both the insecticides and chemicals can be highly toxic . They make the vegetables ( on which these are applied) toxic. Thus, in this manner toxic substances enter the human food chain as consumption of such vegetables by humans means passage of the toxins into human bodies. Regular entry of toxins in human bodies can cause many deadly diseases including cancer and failures of vital organs like kidneys and livers.
So far, nothing has been heard that any organization is engaged in any service to persuade the farmers not to use pesticides but to go for natural ways of pest control. Nobody has warned or taken actions against vegetable sellers not to spray chemicals on them considering the health hazarding aspects of such practice.
Thus, it is high time for the relevant ministry to do something immediately to safeguard public health from the serious threat posed by poisoned vegetables. Recently, we noted some activism against the use of formalin in kitchen markets specially against formalin sprayed on fishes and fruits. But this kind of activism is found missing in relation to vegetables. But considering that vegetables are consumed a great deal at this time of the year and considering the grave health risks associated to consumption of vegetables laced with pesticides and insecticides, it is only proper for all concerned to swing into action to demand the purity of the vegetables.
Researchers at the Institute of Development Policy Analysis in Bangladesh found banned and suspect pesticides among the 12,000 tonnes imported into the country last year — a three-fold increase over the last decade . Suppliers continue to sell many chemical and also 12 particularly controversial pesticides dubbed the “dirty dozen” by activists campaigning worldwide to stop their manufacture. But gullible and illiterate farmers are persuaded by glib sales talk at promotional camps, and through incentive schemes, to buy new unregistered formulations that promise to protect crops against pest attacks and disease
In a recent survey of 820 boro (winter rice), potato, bean, eggplant, cabbage, sugarcane and mango farmers in Bangladesh, more than 47 percent of farmers were found to use more pesticides than needed to protect their crops.
With only four percent of our farmers formally trained in pesticide use or handling, and over 87 percent freely admitting that they used little or no protective measures while applying pesticides, overuse is potentially a very threatening problem to farmers’ health as well as the environment in this country. Thus, in Bangladesh there is an urgent need to actively promote safer pesticide use and hygienic practices among people who handle these substances.
Research findings also highlight the need for policymakers to design effective, targeted outreach programs that address pesticide risk, safe handling, and protection. The approach should ideally be participatory, with a view to addressing the most dangerous information gaps. Another important finding from Bangladesh is that specific crops and geographic locations experience more overuse than others. For the most measurable results, interventions should focus on these crops and regions.
Information on how pesticides affect health is quite limited in Bangladesh. Farmers in Bangladesh are often unable to distinguish the symptoms of pesticide poisoning from other health problems which suggests that regular medical checkups and blood tests should be conducted for those who handle highly or moderately toxic pesticides. Also, farmers should be encouraged to switch to lower-hazard pesticides and use protective gear to reduce individual health risks.
Even when individual farmers are careful, pervasive contamination from others’ pesticide use and persistent pesticide residues in local water, air and soil may pose significant health risks. Collective measures, therefore, can be an important complement to individual actions.
Chemically polluted runoff from fields has contaminated surface and ground water, damaged fisheries, and destroyed freshwater ecosystems in Bangladesh. A significant part of such contamination is the result of unregulated pesticide use.
But a great deal of positive changes can occur with Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and conventional techniques. IPM comprises a range of approaches, from carefully targeted use of chemical pesticides to biological techniques that use natural parasites and predators to control pests. Results from Bangladesh suggest that the productivity of IPM based farming is not significantly different from the productivity of conventional farming. Since IPM reduces pesticide costs with no accompanying loss in production, it seems to be more profitable than conventional farming.
Interview results also suggest substantial health and ecological benefits. However, collective adoption of these methods is a must. Neighbours’ continued reliance on chemicals to kill pests will also kill helpful parasites and predators, as well as exposing IPM farmers and local ecosystems to chemical spillovers from adjoining fields.