June 20, 2024

A public interest organization has recommended deeper study on the safety standards in the application, handling, storage, and availability of pesticides and other agro-chemical inputs in light of its impacts to human health and the environment. 

In a survey of 395 tobacco farmers from three Region 1 provinces conducted from March 1 to April 30 by Tanim Kalikasan Inc., it was revealed that farmers experienced skin irritation, headache, and cough.

They also reported they only used improvised personal protective gear such as gloves, mask, cap, long sleeve shirt, jacket, boots, and apron, and that not one of them used industrial-grade protective gears.

Eighty-four percent of the respondents believed what they have been using prevented them from getting exposed to the chemicals they used while 16 percent thought they experienced chemical exposure.

Sixty percent of them reported over 20 years of exposure, 21 percent exposed from 15 to 20 years, 6.2 percent – seven to 10 years; 1.5 percent for one to three years; and 3.1 percent had less than a year of exposure.

The survey also showed most of the respondents have long been engaged in farming: 29 percent had 21 to 30 years of farming experience; 27 percent – 11 to 20 years; 19 percent – 31 to 40 years; 11 percent – 41 to 50 years; three percent – above 50 years; and 12 percent – one to 10 years of experience.

Based on a 2010 research entitled “Trends of Pesticide Exposure and Related Cases in the Philippines” cited by Tanim Kalikasan, there are eight commonly used pesticides in the country: three are fungicide, three are insecticide, and two are weedicide. It said these pesticides are used by farmers in amounts ranging from two to five milliliters per 16 liters of water for liquid pesticides and three to five grams per 16 liters for pesticides in solid form.

In the survey, chemicals used include herbicides and other kinds of insecticide and fungicide.

The research said overuse of pesticides especially without proper equipment and precautionary measures can pose adverse health effects to the farmers and environment.

In other parts of the country, Tanim Kalikasan reported based on another research that the most common complaints among farmers in Mindanao after spraying were skin irritation, headache, cough, dry throat, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, and eye irritation, which the cited research said were manifestations of mild pyrethroid and organophosphate poisonings. 

Tanim Kalikasan recommended for the country’s compliance with international treaties such as the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which requires assistance for tobacco farmers to shift to alternative livelihood and mandates the government to protect the environment and the health of persons in relation to tobacco cultivation and manufacture.

It also suggested the conduct of deeper investigation on the chemical exposures of tobacco farmers especially children who assist in farming activities and investigate potential depletion of aquifers due to overpumping of water to irrigate tobacco farms and the rate of deforestation caused by tobacco farming; and study safety standards on the application, handling, storage, and availability of pesticides and other agro-chemical inputs.

The survey aims to document, investigate and evaluate the quantity and types of pesticides used per hectare of tobacco and other agricultural crops. – Hanna C. Lacsamana