Managing crop pests has always been a major part of my life. Ever since I was able to handle a hoe and use it for land preparation and weeding, I became a member of our family’s crop management team. Ultimately, hoeing became part of my life because we grew sizeable acreage of maize (corn) and edible beans which we used as staple foods.
Besides hoeing, cultivating maize often required an application of insecticide to prevent stem borers from establishing, damaging the crop, and reducing yield. The insecticide was administered by placing a small amount of a granular formulation into the funnel of each maize plant before tassels emerged. We used no personal protective equipment (PPE) because we knew no better and were given no advice to the contrary. Despite some yield-reducing pest problems occurring in the bean crop, no pesticides were applied in-season.
The next battle with pests came after crops were harvested and stored. The major storage pest at the time was a grain weevil that would infest maize and bean seeds in storage and, to a large extent, render the produce inedible. Consequently, insecticides were mixed with the harvested maize and beans by hand, without PPE, prior to bagging and storing (see Oct. 9, 2017 blogpost). Of particular note here is that once pesticides were applied in storage they could not be removed from stored maize or beans prior to consumption.
Much of what I experienced with pesticide use in Kenya in the 1970s and 1980s is still going on today, especially among rural smallholder farm families. The only difference is that these rural communities now have access to a wider arsenal of pesticides to choose from for their pest management needs. Whereas this might be seen as advantageous to the farmer, we should be concerned that basic pesticide knowledge and understanding is lacking.
What kind of basic knowledge should smallholder African farmers have to handle and apply pesticides?
I became aware of the benefits and hazards of pesticides when I pursued an educational path and career in crop protection. With the knowledge I acquired, I conducted research with pesticides and also taught university courses where I introduced students to the various facets of pesticide use. Presently I have directed my focus to confronting the challenge of pesticide use in Africa. Stepping up to this challenge means that I must strive to ensure relevant information is provided to smallholder African farmers.
Perhaps the starting point is in highlighting pesticides that were/are widely used and have been banned or are problematic.
Tune in for my next series of blogposts as I explore the various facets of pesticides – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
For more information about confronting the challenge of pesticide use in Africa, please visit: http://www.supesta.com.