Misapplication of agro chemicals in the cultivation of crops by some farmers at Chuchuliga and other farming communities in the Builsa District of the Upper East Region is a major source of worry to the Adeng-Sichaab Co-operative Farmers Society Limited.
The society, with support from the Business Sector Advocacy Challenge Fund (BUSAC Fund), has since December 2012 set in motion a number of interventions aimed at reducing to the barest minimum the challenges facing farmers regarding the wrong use of agro chemicals and its debilitating effects on the health of consumers.
The society and the BUSAC Fund have organised a series of advocacy programmes aimed at creating awareness of laws regarding the sale of agrochemicals in the Chuchuliga community. The programmes are also to help reduce to the minimum the use of agrochemicals in the community through the enforcement of bye-laws.
A research had also been conducted into the problem and the findings have been made known to the farmers.
Vegetable farmers are said to be losing market and income because buyers perceive they (the vegetable farmers) misapply agrochemicals to their crops, making them injurious for human consumption.
During the last season, for instance, two farmers reportedly lost their entire crops due to the wrong application of agrochemicals.
Members of the society engage in vegetable farming for their source of livelihood. However, the wrongful application of chemicals has become the bane of the industry.
The advocacy and sensitisation programmes involved the training of the society's members to improve on their advocacy skills. Thirty-eight members of the society, made up of 27 men and 11 women, benefitted from that programme. They were taken through topics as concept and practice of advocacy, problem identification and research for advocacy, report writing, financial management and negotiation skills.
According to the BUSAC Fund Service Provider, Mr Hippolyte Alua, beneficiaries of that training programme could now prepare and keep minutes, financial records, as well as organise their colleagues to hold meetings to address problems related to farming.
A research was conducted into the problem to deepen understanding among farmers regarding the negative effects of using chemicals in farming.
The research findings would be used as a tool to convince the appropriate authorities to take concrete steps to help address the problem of misapplication of chemicals among farmers.
A total of 99 respondents who are farmers were interviewed. Seventy-seven per cent of the respondents belonged to farmer groups and organisations in their respective communities.
The research showed that 86.9 per cent of the respondents, aged between 20 and 60, had a very low capacity to read and write. Less than one-third of the farmers, according to the survey, could read and write English, hence majority of the respondents were faced with the difficulty of reading and understanding labels on chemical containers.
The study further revealed that there was an overuse, misuse and abuse of pesticides in farming mainly due to illiteracy and ignorance of the effects of these chemicals on the health of the consuming public.
Additionally, about 82 per cent of tomato farmers are illiterates and do not adhere to safe agronomic practices.
The study also revealed that controlling insect pests and diseases was another area that was of utmost importance to the respondents. From the data gathered, 75 per cent of the respondents would buy agrochemicals that were easily available and had the ability of eliminating or controlling insects pests, irrespective of their prices.
The survey also revealed that 73 per cent of the respondents sprayed their crops weekly and exposed themselves to chemicals over long periods.
The society is now carrying out media activities. Radio discussions on the various FM stations in the Upper East Region are ongoing, while press releases have been issued to various media organisations to create awareness of the harmful effects of agrochemicals, particularly on farming activities. These are being done with the aim of reaching a wider audience to reduce the practice to the barest minimum.
The way forward
As a way of curbing the situation, the society, through the BUSAC Fund, organised two sensitisation meetings in the Chuchuliga community to make known the research findings to farmers and to deepen their understanding of the issue.
During the meetings, some farmers indicated that the misapplication of agrochemicals was of grave concern to them.
They cited instances where some of their colleagues had their entire farms destroyed due to the wrong use of agro-chemicals.
They mentioned in particular a chemical known as "condemn" which they described as very dangerous.
The farmers further alleged that some of the chemical sellers who were desirous of making profits took advantage of farmers' illiteracy and ignorance to sell some inappropriate chemicals to them.
The farmers, therefore, suggested that non-qualified chemical sellers should be banned from operating and those selling on tables should be dealt with according to the law.
Another issue that came up strongly at the meetings was the use of children to spray the chemicals on farms.