Government is currently working on methods to support safe food production and reduce pesticide use, following concerns over the use of pesticides in the agricultural sector.
Planning and Development Minister Pennelope Beckles made the revelation while speaking at the launch of a Pesticide Container Management Pilot Project led by the non-profit organisation People for People Foundation (P4P).
The launch coincided with the observance of Pesticide Week 2022, and was a collaborative effort of several agencies. The Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Unit, Chemistry Food and Drugs Division, Ministry of Health and a major agro-input supplier Southern Chemicals and Agricultural Supplies Limited were part of the effort.
Pesticides, including substances such as insecticides and herbicides, are used to destroy organisms deemed to be harmful to cultivating plants or animals. There is a rising awareness of the negative effects of pesticides on human health and the environment.
Improper pesticide management practices can result in respiratory tract, eye and skin irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, reproductive harm, seizures and/or death. Over the years, farmers have been poisoned when applying pesticides to their crops.
A recent survey found that 47 per cent of 208 farmers spread across Trinidad and Tobago felt unwell over the past 12 months, within 24 hours of pesticide application.
The survey was conducted by Duraisamy Saravanakumar, Professor and Head, Department of Food Production, Faculty of Food and Agriculture, UWI, St Augustine in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Some occupational poisoning is also seen to be pesticide container-related, since improperly cleaned empty containers still had enough residue inside of them to be considered hazardous waste.
There is a danger that empty pesticide containers may lead to poisoning when reused and those left in the environment have the potential to contaminate soils, and underground water sources with consequential risks to food safety and ultimately the health of our citizens.
Minister Beckles expressed concern at these alarming figures and highlighted the government’s support of citizen led initiatives such as P4P’s Pesticide Container Management Pilot.
The Planning and Development Minister outlined the role of the Ministry, which has responsibility for the environment, in implementing initiatives to support the cause.
The Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) and The University of the West Indies collaborated on a project to determine the impacts of chemical based pesticides, fertilisers and fungicides on the aquatic and marine environment from farms near the Caroni Swamp.
The study found some negative effects, though not posing any major health risks. However, the IMA is working with farmers to cut chemical use in agriculture by 50 to 70 per cent.
The IMA and UWI are also promoting the use of more biologically based extracts such as an organic Seaweed Extract (formulated by the University of the West Indies).
The extract is made from sargassum seaweed, for application on vegetable crops, roots, tubers and ornamental plants.
It’s intended to be a replacement for chemically based pesticides, fungicides and fertilisers which have been found to have a deleterious impact on the natural environment.
The seaweed extract was found to promote better plant growth and yield and enhanced the plants resistance to pest and disease when compared to the chemically based compounds.
Another project in which the Ministry of Planning is involved is the Global Environment Facility (GEF) ISLANDS Programme (2021 – 2026) – ‘Implementing Sustainable Low and Non-Chemical Development in small island developing states (SIDS).
The objective of the Programme is to prevent the build-up of materials and chemicals containing persistent organic pollutants (POPs), mercury, and other harmful chemicals in the environments and to safely manage the disposal of existing harmful chemicals and materials.
Work has also been done to reduce the effects of the improper usage of pesticides on the productivity and longevity of agricultural soils. The Ministry, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation, developed the Biodiversity Conservation and Agro-ecological Land Restoration in Productive Landscapes in Trinidad and Tobago (BIOREACH) Project.
Component 2 of this undertaking seeks to decrease the rate of land degradation and restore and enhance the productive capacity of agricultural landscapes by promoting sustainable practices.
Other recent initiatives in which the Planning Ministry has played an integral role include:
The drafting of requirements for the Labelling of Retail Packages of Pesticides in Trinidad and Tobago;
The implementation of the project Disposal of Obsolete Pesticides including POPs; Promotion of Alternatives; and Strengthening Pesticides Management in the Caribbean (in collaboration with the FAO);
The drafting of a National Quarantine and Pre-Shipment Policy, currently undergoing public consultation through efforts under the Montreal Protocol, the international agreement which seeks to phase out the fumigant methyl bromide, an ozone depleting substance, and properly manage its alternatives.
The goal to reduce the use of deleterious pesticides in our environment supports government’s national strategic goal to place the environment at the centre of social and economic development, while working to achieve Sustainable Developmental Goal 15, ‘Life on Land’.
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