Use of pesticide and other agrochemicals has become rampant in Bangladesh, resulting in a deadly cycle of intoxication of health and the environment. Experts discuss with Manzur H Maswood the impacts of pesticide use
Rubhana Raqib, head of ICDDR,B laboratory of immunobiology, nutrition and toxicology
The government is allowing pesticide use to increase crop production to manage population growth and land scarcity. The National Integrated Pest Management Policy promotes pesticide use arguing that pests damage 15 per cent of crops. Different studies show that pesticide use has been increasing multiple times every year.
In Bangladesh, insecticide and fungicide are mostly used and sometimes herbicide. Even some pesticides are used here which are banned internationally, because there is no strong monitoring in Bangladesh.
Even an ICDDR,B study has found some pesticides like DDT are used with their names and packets changed. ICDDR,B in a recent study found that there was DDT residue in breast milk. It proves that though DDT was banned in the 80s, the residue is still in the soil or the chemical is still being used. The incidents of persistent organic chemical like that are very dangerous.
These rampant uses of pesticide create many health hazards like cancer, skin cancer, different organ cancer, kidney damage, liver damage, genetic defects, fetus damage, congenital anomaly, birth defects. Many children are born with heart defects, neurological defects and so on.
Studies in the USA found that in California, non-communicable diseases like diabetes, kidney failure and cardiovascular disease were increasing and these cases had links with pesticide use.
We have no such studies and we don’t know the real situation here about the impact of pesticide use.
Our agricultural offices do not give enough training to the farmers about the pesticide use. As a result, the farmers don’t know the level of toxicity in a particular pesticide. They use the pesticide, which acts rapidly against pests. They don’t know the limit of the use, which ultimately results in toxicity not only in the foods, but also in the top soil and water. The companies which sell pesticide should also be regulated.
If Bangladesh wants to be a middle income country, it should increase the monitoring on pesticide and ensure consumer rights. Bangladesh must have to revise the pest control policy.
The government can run TVC about the impact of pesticide and harmful effects. It is better to make people aware. The farmers should be trained and people have to the aware about the impact of pesticide.
There should be studies on pesticide use and the government needs to revise the pest control policy and ensure strong monitoring. ICDDR,B has started studies on pesticide use.
Suraiya Begum, associate professor of pediatrics at Bangbandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University
Children are more vulnerable to pesticide and harmful chemicals than adults. Infants and children’s bodies are less able to detoxify and eject harmful chemicals. Inhalation of spray mist or dust from these pesticides may cause throat irritation, sneezing, and coughing. It also causes irritation to skin, eyes, and respiratory tract of children.
Pesticide residues on food are the most critical route of childhood exposure that can lead to death and other health hazards like convulsions. Indirect routes of pesticide to children also cause some chronic health hazards.
Health effects of pesticides may be acute or delayed in those children who are exposed to pesticide. In the acute cases, the children could die and suffer from convulsion. The delayed effects include leukemia to the children. Other negative outcomes from pesticide exposure include neurological problems, defects in different organs, and neurodevelopmental disorder.
If a pregnant woman is exposed to pesticide, child’s brain development can be seriously hampered and other organs including heart may be badly affected. The pesticide has impact on normal process of development of different organs of the children. The use of pesticide badly affects growing bodies and developing minds of children.
If pesticides are used at houses or gardens or fields near houses, the environment gets less safe for children. The problem is that surveillance systems are inadequate to determine problems related to exposure of pesticide. But in our country, pesticides are used without considering any these health impacts because of unawareness.
Rumana Tasmin, assistant professor of zoology at Jagannath University
Farmers in our country usually use insecticides to control pests, but nowadays, they are using herbicide, a substance that is toxic to plants and used to destroy unwanted vegetation.
These insecticide and herbicide are seriously hazardous to health and the environment, but farmers do not know about it. They believe that these supply nutrition to crops without understanding their impacts, which do not appear immediately, but slowly.
The farmers do not use protective apparatus while using these chemicals. Such chemicals finally find their ways in our bodies. The body accumulates those chemicals especially in the liver, kidney and different others organs and cells.
It ultimately results in diseases like cancer, damage of kidney, liver and reproductive organ dysfunction. Sometimes these affect babies in the womb.
Another issue is that the pesticides are also becoming resistant. When pesticides do not work, farmers use them in high quantity to get better outcome.
The farmers even do not destroy the empty bottles or packs of pesticide. They simply leave them to the soil or water, which creates hazards to the environment and human. The empty bottles of pesticide should be burnt down. Even keeping them underground affects the soil.
These multifarious problems are created when pesticide enter into the food chain, plant, soil and human.
The problem is that the farmers remain unaware about the hazards of pesticide because the agriculture officials do not go to them.
The farmers used to take advice from the pesticide stores in the village markets. They are often misled and misguided by the sellers. The government lacks in vigilance and mechanism for import and use of pesticide. Even the DDT, which was internationally banned in 1984, is still being used in Bangladesh.
The government should formulate strong policy and mechanism to stop rampant use of pesticide.
Habibullah Talukder Ruskin, head of cancer epidemiology department at National Institute of Cancer Research and Hospital
There is no national study on the relation between cancer and pesticide in Bangladesh, but different international studies on Bangladesh have found that there are pesticides behind serious health hazards, especially cancer in Bangladesh.
The studies show that about 94 per cent farmers use pesticide in crops. The pesticides are used in our main crops like rice, potato and vegetables.
But most appalling thing is that the studies have found a few farmers, around seven per cent, using protective gears while using pesticide and thus risking their lives.
The pesticide has not only direct but many indirect impacts. When the pesticides are released in soil, water or air, they damage the ecology and the health of human and animals.
Among the health hazards, cancer is one of the key diseases that has link to pesticide. The pesticide use result in prostate cancer among men and breast cancer among women. The children are vulnerable to leukaemia by the pesticide exposure.
Delowar Jahan, natural agriculture activist
Our entire agricultural system has been held hostage by the agrochemical industry and the people and environment are paying for their business.
The pesticide use results in a deadly cycle of intoxication. The pesticide substances kill billions of microbes living in the soil’s ecosystem thus rupturing the biodiversity of land.
Pesticide use is harming human, animals, environment and ecology at the same time but there is no policy or mechanism to promote natural agriculture that require no pesticide or other chemicals.
The reason of promoting genetically modified and engineered verities of crops instead of local varieties is that GM crops require more chemicals that are also produced by the same industry. And at a certain point, the soil loses productivity.
This is the political economy of multinational agrochemical industry and we are promoting them knowingly or unknowingly.
The government should place strong regulation for companies that sell pesticides and give priority to the organic agriculture to reduce the burden of pesticide-related hazards.
Some of our agriculture scientists have developed natural remedy against pests which harm crops. But they are not promoted or popularised.
One of the effective measures for pest control introduced in Bangladesh is pheromone traps to control pests. Specific lures like particular floral or food items are placed in a container with a door that lets insects in, but not out, capturing them and decreasing damage done to the cabbage. But the government did not popularise it in our country.
We have abundant of agricultural products nowadays and the government should focus on qualitative developments of the crops.
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