Knowledge, Management and Gender Implications of Pesticide Safety in Nepal
This post was written by Sara Hendery, communications consultant for the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Innovation Lab.
While there is a growing appetite for biopesticide application in Nepal, most farmers still rely on synthetic pesticide use to combat plant pests.
USAID’s Feed the Future IPM Innovation Lab has been working in Nepal for almost two decades, aiming to improve food security and develop ecological management technologies to combat plant threats. Through one of its associate awards — the Feed the Future Nepal Integrated Pest Management (FTFNIPM) activity, implemented locally by iDE — the program is working to improve pesticide safety throughout the Feed the Future Zone of Influence (ZOI) in the country.
“Introducing integrated pest management practices to small-scale farmers — such as release of natural enemies, installation of pheromone traps, application of the beneficial fungus Trichoderma — can help both reduce pesticide safety risks and increase production and efficiency,” said Tim McCoy, a pesticide safety consultant collaborating with FTFNIPM. “One advantage of using many of the biopesticides we promote is that they can be applied to produce and little to zero time needs to pass before the produce can be sold at the market.”
During recent in-country travel, McCoy and the FTFNIPM team uncovered a number of pesticide safety findings that have important implications for both farmers and consumers, including the following findings:
- Farmers infrequently used personal protective equipment (PPE) while spraying pesticides. Expense is a secondary factor as for why farmers are not wearing minimally protective equipment, including gloves and footwear, while mixing and applying chemicals. Agrovets, community business facilitators and plant doctors all cite farmers’ dismissal of the health value of PPE, due to such reasons as the discomfort of wearing it in the hot sun.
- Pesticides are being applied to vegetables postharvest to give them a “market-ready sheen,” and to protect them from insects such as flies at the market, potentially exposing consumers to pesticide residues.
- Pesticide labels are often not read by farmers before application, as few labels are written in a local language, which is compounded by the small font size used to print.
- Preharvest intervals (the minimum amount of time between the last application of a pesticide and when the crop can be harvested) placed on pesticide labels are often not followed. This leads to higher pesticide residues at harvest. While related to labeling issues, the primary reason for this problem is that farmers must respond to market forces that dictate harvest time and may not be able to wait for the required preharvest intervals.
- Adequate pesticide disposal opportunities are limited in Nepal, as there are few places to dispose of pesticides. Disposal of plastic containers in waterways remains an issue.
- The import duties and taxation scheme established for certain pest management products is hindering implementation of IPM technologies in Nepal. As a result of unequal tax rates, certain IPM-related items are more expensive to farmers, as compared to other chemical-based alternatives.
USAID’s FTFNIPM activity has been conducting pesticide safety trainings for agri-input supply businesses and farmers to improve pesticide handling practices and increase use of alternative products, including biopesticides that require minimal preharvest intervals or have adverse impacts on people and the environment. The activity has also conducted training on safe and effective IPM methods, such as production of natural enemies to be released against the fall armyworm, a destructive maize pest.
To increase awareness around pesticide safety, the activity is targeting 10,000 households with safe pesticide application information through SMS text messages, radio jingles and visual posters. FTFNIPM is also collaborating with the local Plant Quarantine and Pesticide Management Centre on amendments to pesticide regulations and with other relevant government agencies to reduce currently imposed high taxes to IPM tools and products. These policy shifts should make safe pest management products more available and accessible to farmers, while helping to better enforce regulations that protect people and the environment against unsafe pesticide use and practices.
Amidst FTFNIPM’s pesticide safety training, it has been clear that gender and other social factors shape risk to pesticide exposure. For example, men are typically perceived as principally responsible for decisions linked to pesticide purchase and application and are often responsible for applying pesticides. Women and children are still exposed indirectly, however, as they are often responsible for mixing, storing and washing clothing with pesticide residues. Female farmers cited potential exposure to chemicals as the reason why they wanted to avoid pesticide sprays. Additionally, there are gendered differences in pesticide application risks and exposure due to varying literacy rates.
As women continue to play key roles in farming in Nepal, it’s imperative they have access to information about safe pesticide use and handling.
“Throughout our training, agrovets and others involved in pesticide retail outlined the importance of having multiple forms of media to communicate information on safe pesticide use and handling, including flyers, wall murals, practical training and demonstrations, text messages and radio jingles,” said Daniel Sumner, assistant director of Women and Gender in International Development, which helps address gender components of USAID’s FTFNIPM activity. “Many agreed that current communication channels could be adjusted so they could more directly reach women farmers.”
USAID’s IPM Innovation Lab is housed at Virginia Tech’s Center for International Research, Education and Development.