It is estimated that about 50 per cent of global Agricultural production is lost before or after harvest due to the combined effects of disease, pest attacks and weeds. In African the total loss, in real production of the world's eight major food and cash crops (cotton, soybeans, rice, maize, potatoes, coffee, wheat and barley) that is attributable to disease pathogens, insect attacks and weeds is over 90 per cent.
Researchers, policy makers and other stakeholders agree that a long term solution entails increasing unit production and cutting down post harvest losses. These are quite brilliant and attractive ideas that play very well on paper. Their real impacts and implementations are totally different things altogether.
Crop protection using pesticides is one way of increasing production per acre as well as reducing post harvest losses. In its broad sense crop protection encompasses several techniques and approaches that range from traditional or cultural practices to elaborate conventional use of pesticides.
Pesticides can simply be defined as substances used to protect crops against their enemies, decontaminate premises and exert physiological action on plant growth. And by enemies of crop plants we imply organisms such as mites, insects, nematodes, fungi, weeds, bacteria and sometimes viruses, that either cause direct damage (eating crop plants) indirectly weakening them (through competition for resources) and acting as disease vectors.
The key reason for high farming yields achieved in the past three decades both in Northern industrialized countries and in the Southern developing countries was attributed to the use of chemical pesticides. The wheat and corn surpluses in the North and the "Green Revolution" that enabled several Southern countries to achieve food self-sufficiency would probably never have occurred if it were not for pesticides.
Pesticides have been around and man has made use of them probably since time immemorial. The use of arsenics and sulphur is said to date back to antiquity; the use of tobacco juice as the first modern insecticide, the advent of organophosphorus, organochlorines, pyrethroids in the 20th century are all attributable to the enormous advantages associated with pesticide use.
With Agriculture accounting for 30 per cent of the GDP in Africa and with over 65 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population engaging in agriculture, there is need to urge African farmers to use agrochemicals adequately.
In Africa, a large portion of farmers still practice traditional farming claiming that agrochemicals are dangerous. There have been cases of farmers losing all their crops due to improper use of agrochemicals. Such experiences cause fear and panic to farmers who may be willing to use chemicals in future. Some even influence others hence little or no usage of chemicals.
Erastus Muoki, a farmer from Kitui Kenya observes, “Agrochemicals increase yields if well used. One should follow instructions and observe the expiry date. Agrochemicals, like a knife, can be useful if well wielded but dangerous if abused.” However, Joseph Kimani, another farmer laments, “Agrochemicals are not good since they are a hazard to our health. When sprayed on leafy plants such as kales (sukuma wiki), some are stored in the plant tissue for months and when consumed they are dangerous to our health. Others just destroy our crops. I propose we practice traditional farming and get agrochemical free plans.”
Unfortunately, the pesticide business is completely guided by business interests. Nobody seems to care who is selling what to who and where. Virtually you can purchase any quantity of any pesticides anywhere anytime, let alone whether it is genuine or not.
Farmers need agrochemicals, be it for controlling disease outbreaks or combating pests already destroying their crops. Agrochemical industries can add value on their products by training them how to apply and handle chemicals. When Kickstart sold me a water pump, its field assistant visited me thrice to see its performance,” says Wandia of Western Kenya.
Agrochemicals can borrow this leaf. In addition, Agro-veterinary outlets are very crucial agents of agrochemical industries. The latter need to be equipped with stewardship skills to appropriately advice farmers. It is time agrochemical industries visited their distributors and farmers on the ground to advise on use of their products.
By Kennedy Omenda
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