Assessment of occupational and environmental safety concerns on pestcide use among small-scale farmers in Sagana, Nyeri District, Kenya
Kariuki, Peter Mureithi
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The purpose of this study was to examine whether farmers' perceptions, attitudes and behaviour with respect to handling pesticides in Sagana Nyeri district Kenya predisposed them and their environment to pesticide-related hazards. The objectives of the study were: a) to determine the farmer's attitudes, perceptions and behaviour towards pesticides at Sagana, b) to assess the potential occupational safety hazards associated with such attitudes, perceptions and behaviour, and c) to determine the potential hazards to the environment resulting from observed farmer-pesticide interactions at farm level. The study adopted a Life Cycle Approach where hazards to human health and the environment were evaluated at all stages of pesticide handling including purchasing phase, transportation, storage, mixture preparation, application and disposal. Data were both qualitative and quantitative in nature and were collected using questionnaire surveys, interview schedules, participatory rural appraisals, field observations and content analysis for secondary data. Descriptive and inferential statistics were used for data analysis. Person's correlation coefficient was particularly useful in determining the relationships between selected key variables. Results showed that farmers had high levels of perceived vulnerability, perceived severity and perceived benefits of taking action to mitigate pesticide hazards. However, barriers to taking safety measures included perceived high cost of personnel protection gear, apathy and resignation to fate, and low levels of training in pesticide management. Most farmers engaged in activities hazardous to human health such as spraying in windy weather (96%), storing pesticides in the main houses (96%) thus exposing particularly children to danger, not changing clothes after work (84%) and eating or smoking while handling pesticides (83%). Farmer activities hazardous to the environment included failure to calibrate pesticide application equipments (89%), spraying during windy weather (97%), lack of appropriate pesticide measuring equipment (84%) and disposing empty containers and excess mixes to the environment. Trained farmers engaged less in hazardous pesticide handling activities than untrained farmers. Further, contrary to conventional thinking, formal education did not play a significant role towards adoption of safety behaviour. Highly hazardous products banned in many developed countries like DDT were still in use. Over 69% of farmers took no action to protect themselves from pesticide hazards resulting in potentially risky operator exposure. There was evidence that significant poisoning was occurring as 79% reported signs of ill health associated with pesticide exposure. These included breathing problems (25%) skin problems (18%) and chest pains (14%). Therefore, for pesticide safety to be raised and inculcated among low-income farmers, extension, training and education must urgently address issues predisposing farmers to pesticide hazards along the pesticide-handling life cycle as described above. Changes in perceptions and attitudes and hence behaviour when dealing with pesticides are the most important policy and action challenges. Policy interventions should also encourage collective responsibility among all stakeholders in the pesticide life cycle in minimising the hazards. Investment in alternative technologies should also be emphasised, given the growing importance of biotechnology and eco-products in the global market.