The risks associated with pesticides (for users, consumers and the environment) should be reduced as much as possible. Several actions can be taken that help to reduce these risks.
1) Abandon the use of pesticides
This is obviously the best option as it avoids all risks. In Integrated Pest Management and in Organic Farming many methods are available that can keep pest populations at acceptable levels without the use of pesticides.
2) Understand the dangers of pesticides
If pesticides are used, risk reduction starts with understanding the dangers involved. Read the instructions on the label and make sure you fully understand them. Try to find additional information on the properties of the active ingredients. Before buying and using a pesticide you have to make sure that you are well informed about the dangers and about the proper way of using them:
- Knowledge starts by knowing the properties of the active ingredients. Make sure you know what the active ingredient is, know what it does, and be sure that it is suitable for use against the target pest.
- Know the correct dosage. Don’t overdose.
- Know how to dilute or prepare the chemical for application.
- Know that some chemicals should not be mixed as they would become ineffective or very toxic. So never mix two different products unless you are very sure that it is possible.
- Know what to do in case of poisoning.
- Use every opportunity to increase your knowledge. Read labels, read books, ask experts, use the internet, etc.
- Be careful in taking advice from pesticide dealers. Some may have a good knowledge on pesticides but many are just interested to sell their product and will misguide the farmer.
3) Reduce the use of pesticides
By reducing the amount of pesticides used on his farm, the farmer will automatically reduce the risk. Farmers have often many options in pest control aside from using pesticides.
- The number of applications may be reduced by a better timing (e.g. tolerate low pest infestations and only spray when it is really necessary)
- The amount of pesticides used can be decreased by spraying lower dosages (e.g. spray on a moment when the pest is most vulnerable, young caterpillars are easier to kill than bigger ones)
- The amount of pesticides used can be reduced by using spot application (e.g. don’t spray the whole field if only a part of the field is infested, don’t spray the entire plant if the pest only occupies a part of the plant)
4) Select the type of pesticides with lowest risk
Risks can be reduced by selecting pesticides that are less poisonous to humans or that have less negative effects on the environment. While use of organic pesticides (e.g. neem, derris, tobacco) does involve some risks, they are generally considered safer than the synthetic pesticides. But also among the synthetic pesticides there is a big variation in toxicity, persistence and other characteristics.
If pesticides are used:
- Avoid products with high toxicity: Use products with low toxicity that are less risky for humans and animals.
- Avoid persistent products: Use low-persistent products that break-down rapidly.
- Avoid broad-spectrum product: Use specific products that are safer for beneficial insects and environment.
5) Avoid contact with pesticides
The farmer runs high risks of poisoning when handling pesticides. If farmers understand these risks, most of the following points are just common sense:
- Don’t use the hands to mix the chemicals. Use a stick to stir or mix the solution by shaking it inside a closed container.
- Don’t use the mouth to open the chemical bottle.
- Don’t use the mouth to blow the nozzle of the sprayer when it is blocked. Use a small wire to remove the blockage, or replace the nozzle.
- When spraying, use protective clothing to prevent the spray mist coming in contact with the body. Protective clothing includes the use of gloves, goggles, and masks.
- Observe the wind direction when spraying and make sure to stay above the wind to minimize contact with the spray mist.
- Don’t eat, drink or smoke while working with pesticides.
- After applying pesticides, always take a thorough bath or shower to clean the body.
- Be aware of symptoms of poisoning: headache, nausea, trembling hands, etc. If you notice any symptom or if you don’t feel well, immediately see a doctor and inform which product (active ingredient) you used, or bring the pesticide container with label to the doctor.
6) Avoid residues on the crop
Pesticides that are sprayed on a crop can leave residues that are dangerous for the consumer of the crop. Some chemicals are more persistent and will stay present for a long time after application. Others will break down more rapidly. For this reason, chemicals should not be applied shortly before harvesting. If a chemical is more persistent, then the required waiting period between application and harvest becomes longer. The required waiting period may be indicated on the label of the container.
- The farmer needs to be well informed about the persistence of the chemical and know its recommended waiting period.
- Never harvest a crop within the recommended waiting period.
7) Don’t contaminate or harm the environment
If a farmer uses pesticides, only a very small part will actually reach the target organism (the pest) for which it is meant. The largest part of the applied chemicals will remain on the crop, blow away with the wind, wash away with rain, leach and run off to water resources, and harm the environment. These chemicals kill many non-target organisms such as spiders and beneficial insects. They contaminate water and soil, and poison animals in the natural ecosystem (e.g. birds, earthworms, lizards, mammals).
The farmer should make all effort to minimize contamination of the environment. Precautions to take include:
- Don’t spray when there is a lot of wind as most of the pesticide would blow away and not reach the intended target.
- Extreme precaution should be taken when using pesticides near rivers or other open water. Most chemicals are very dangerous to fish and other water organisms.
- Don’t wash containers, spraying equipment, contaminated clothes in open water such as rivers or ponds.
- Don’t leave empty containers in the field.
8) Reduce the risk for other persons, children, farm animals, etc.
The farmer who decides to use a pesticide is not only responsible for his own health but also for that of others. He should take all precautions to make sure that other persons, children, farm animals, etc. cannot come in contact with the chemical.
- Always keep the chemical in its original container with clearly visible original label. Don’t transfer the chemical to other containers, unless the original container is damaged. In that case, make sure the new container is clearly labeled.
- Store the pesticides in a safe place (behind lock and key), away from children, animals and food.
- Don’t leave pesticide containers or spraying equipment unattended in the field. It should be supervised at all times. Don’t leave empty containers behind in the field.
- Empty containers should never be reused for any other purpose. They should be disposed off by destroying them (to avoid reuse) or by burying them deeply in a safe place, where they can not be reached by children or animals and where they cannot contaminate water sources.
- Make sure that nobody can come in contact with contaminated tools (containers, stick used for mixing, clothing, gloves, masks). They should be washed before storing them. If somebody else is washing the contaminated clothes they should be informed in advance of the risk.
Before making decision in using any pesticide, you should first be fully aware of all risks involved and know how to minimize these risks.