WEST AFRICA: Introduction of pesticide into cotton production leads to deaths
Deaths from endosulfan poisoning are being reported in Benin, following introduction of the pesticide in the 1999/ 2000 season across francophone West Africa.
Pesticide News, published by the Pesticide Action Network (formerly the Pesticides Trust), has published a report alleging that as many as 70 deaths in Benin may have been caused by improper use of endosulfan.
The article’s authors argue that the decision to introduce endosulfan into West Africa took into consideration only Australian’s use of endosulfan and failed to consider how West African farming practices differ from those in Australia.
“In the Borgou province [of Benin, where 37 deaths have been recorded], the use of cotton pesticides for vegetable production and food storage was the predominant cause of death,” states the Pesticide News article. “The specific characteristics of the product probably explain why people’s common coping strategy (ie. washing the food before consumption) was dramatically unsuccessful: endosulfan does not dissolve easily in water. This might also serve as an explanation for the high death-toll reported through contaminated vegetables and through re-use of pesticide packaging materials. Other major causes of involuntary poisoning were: maize and cassava that were contaminated during pesticide transport, okra and maize plants that emerged voluntarily in cotton fields, the re-use of pesticide packaging materials as food cans, and inhalation during spraying. Farmers cannot afford and do not have access to proper protective clothing for pesticide application. Farmers tend to spray bare-foot or in sandals, and without the use of safety goggles, gloves, long sleeves or respirators. Men, women and children can be in the field during spraying – as well as sheep, goats and chickens. Also, farmers are not adequately informed about the products they use. Such inappropriate uses of cotton pesticides in West Africa is very well known to cotton research institutes, and should have been taken into account.”
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