In many places, putting together a plate full of healthy, safe and nutritious food is not as easy as it sounds. In 2020, Rikolto funded an assessment to check the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables available to consumers in Arusha. The results of the assessment were very worrying: 47.5% of all fruits and vegetables tested had detectable pesticide leftovers and 74.2% of those were above the maximum level allowed for safety reasons. These pesticides leftovers come from misusing or overusing pesticides in different places: on the farm, during transport, while in storage or on the markets. Tackling food safety challenges therefore requires action from farm to fork.
Food safety starts at the farm
Not far from Arusha City, Rikolto is implementing a project under the Natural Resources Stewardship Programme (NatuReS) to strengthen the resilience of communities by improving their farming and water management practices. In Maroroni Ward in Meru District, Rikolto has collaborated with Tropical Pesticide Research Institute (TPRI) to identify the major health risks for smallholder farmers linked to the use of pesticides. These farmers use pesticides extensively based on the idea that preventive spraying is necessary to protect the crop and obtain good yields. They are however not aware of the safe ways to handle and apply pesticides. For example, most farmers apply too much pesticide in terms of dosage, and they have limited understanding of the types of chemicals required and the application methods for the specific pest or crop. Rikolto and TPRI found that smallholder farmers often do not use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and labourers, who are often women, are at times present in the field during spray activities. As a result, farmers and labourers are jeopardized by the daily unsafe exposure to chemical pesticides, potentially leading to undesired exposure and health impact and the surrounding environment. Additionally, the misuse of pesticides is one of the factors leading to significant pesticide residues in the fresh fruits and vegetables available on the markets, which is harmfully to consumers.
To address these issues, Rikolto engaged TPRI to train smallholder farmers on safe uses of pesticides. 108 farmers have participated in an intensive “training of trainers”, which gives them the right skills and knowledge to train others on the safe use of pesticides. These 108 trainers will each coach 12 farmers to make a total of 1296 smallholder farmers trained on safe pesticide use. Over one month, the farmers were trained on the following topics: Types of pesticides, proper ways of spraying pesticides, application of pesticides by using different nozzles, safe and correct uses of pesticides, traceability of pesticides, and safe disposal of empty, expired, or leftover pesticides containers. Other topics covered safe storage and transportation of pesticides, first aid of a person affected with pesticides, and the negative effects of pesticides to human beings and the environment. After the classroom style training, the farmers will undergo practical training on 14 demonstration plots. The 108 trainers will also be provided with equipment and sprayers with all kinds of nozzles to enable them to pass on the skills and knowledge related to safe use of pesticides to their fellow farmers.
Collection centres for pesticide containers
Hand in hand with training farmers, we also set up three pesticide collection centres in the communities where we are working. The collection centres are a place where farmers can safely dispose of empty or expired pesticide containers nearby in their community. This way, farmers can apply what they have learnt during the training regarding safe uses of pesticides, but then also find a safe way to dispose of containers that cannot be used anymore. Unfortunately, right now they often end up on the farm, in a nearby stream or in bins that are not meant for the disposal of pesticide containers. This involves many risks regarding health, food safety, and water quality. At the collection centres, TPRI will come and collect the empty containers so that they can be disposed of in a correct manner.
While a “collection centre” may seem like a complex solution, it is actually the opposite. We have built three simple structures of around one square meter by 2 metres high, which is relatively cheap to make and can be built locally. This ensures that the collection centres can be replicated in other places across Tanzania if our pilot proves to be successful.