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21 May 2019

Pest management in developing countries: A view from Ghana

Your association | PPC95 May 2019

If you were at PestEx 2019 you’d have seen people representing pest management companies from around the world in attendance. There are a variety of standards internationally in pest management – with BPCA championing best practice here in the UK

Companies outside of Britain regularly join BPCA, as Observer members, so they can try to emulate BPCA’s best practice and access our guidance materials. Julian Acheampong is the Managing Director of BPCA Observer member Samson Pest Control in Ghana. He shares his Observer observations with PPC readers tackling everything from pesticide misuse to Brexit.

A view from Ghana an Observer story

The ability to strike independent trade deals with countries around the world has been keenly emphasised by those in favour of the UK leaving the European Union. In turn, developing countries in many instances have higher rates of economic growth than developed economies. As a result, the British pest control industry may deepen its commercial relationships in these countries in the years ahead.

As this engagement strengthens, we would do well to be mindful of various challenges when operating in developing countries. Using Ghana as a case in point, a few issues stand out.

Impunity fueling abuse

Firstly there’s the impact of weak institutions. State bodies are poorly funded.

This results in weak regulation which has very adverse consequences for human health and the environment as people cut corners. For example, pesticides routinely end up in drains and gutters, including in coastal cities where most of the content ends up in the sea.

Impunity fuels the abuse. Many developing countries grapple with background corruption issues which further compound the problem.

Potentially dangerous pesticide usage

The list of pesticides approved in Ghana is another key issue. Chemicals banned or restricted in developed economies are often widely used in developing countries - sometimes in a manner wholly inconsistent with the manufacturer’s instructions.

In Ghana, widespread use and misuse of organophosphates (OPs) such as chlorpyrifos is a particular concern. Less toxic alternatives exist but OPs remain approved for use even in domestic settings despite potential risks, especially for children. This situation also speaks to the power of pesticide lobbyists.

An article in The Guardian in October 2018 cited ‘compelling’ evidence that OPs increase the risk of reduced IQs, memory deficits and autism in pre-natal infants. I hope developing nations will follow the lead of other countries tightening controls here.

Without enough resources regulators in developing countries also find it challenging to crack down on cheap counterfeit products entering their markets from abroad. These products are purchased by price-sensitive consumers who may or may not know the difference between legitimate pesticides and counterfeit.

No personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn by these people

Health and safety practices 

So who’s using these pesticides?

In Ghana, it’s often an illiterate farmer who wants to spray his crops. In numerous documented cases these farmers are either assisted by their wives and children or have given their wives and children full responsibility for spraying crops while they focus on more physically demanding jobs.

Typically little or no personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn by these people – they don’t understand its importance and baulk at the cost of purchasing it.

Often individual farmers can’t afford one litre of an insecticide so four will group together, purchase a litre and subsequently divide the contents four ways. The pesticide is normally stored in plastic bags after being divided which has led to numerous deaths of infants who stumbled across these bags while playing.

Pesticide manufacturers importing products into developing countries should, therefore, consider packaging their pesticides in smaller concentrations for these markets.

Illiteracy and labelling

Undereducated labourers are the demographic normally tasked with applying pesticides by commercial pest control service providers. If poorly trained they are a risk to themselves, others and the environment.

Instructions on the label and material safety data sheets (MSDS) are not understood by many of these users. This highlights the obvious health and safety issues. In addition, it speaks for the need for clear, culturally-appropriate, picture-based labelling in these emerging markets.

Regular training and monitoring are essential in every context where pesticides manufactured in prosperous countries are sold into developing countries where illiteracy is common amongst pesticide applicators.

Not all health officials can diagnose and treat cases of pesticide poisoning in developing countries. The UN estimates approximately 200,000 people die annually from pesticide poisoning, 99% of them in the developing world. This does not include the approximately 110,000 additional suicides using pesticides every year. I’m sure you’ll agree, these are startling figures.

British businessmen and businesswomen posted overseas soon discover challenges in securing certified organic food or pesticide-free food in developing country supermarkets. This brings into sharp focus the gap in standards and the potential health risks faced by consumers in these emerging economies.

Trust and integrity

In the absence of robust governing bodies in developing countries, self-regulation becomes key. If the bar isn’t high, don’t stand by. Raise the bar yourself.

Even at the best of times in developed countries, this business is a trust game. In the developing world, the importance of trust and judgment are further magnified considerably.

The ability to break laws with impunity presents significant risks to the health of humans and the environment. In countries where young children are sent to landfill sites to scavenge for scraps, the irresponsible disposer of pesticide containers can do enormous harm.

Kindergartens in developing countries facing challenges with mosquitoes or bed bugs can unwittingly contaminate their premises with unsuitable toxic pesticides banned or controlled in the west but unknown to the kindergarten-owners widely available in emerging markets such as theirs.

In countries where realistically there are no adverse consequences for spraying bee nests with insecticides and landlords are desperate to see bees eliminated from their properties, steadfast adherence to principles is difficult but paramount.

The consequences of pesticide abuse are real. Food products, rivers and water bodies are sometimes contaminated. A recent study in Ghana even detected traces of pesticides in human breast milk.

Farmers spray crops, pesticide residues enter soils, rainfall transports these toxic substances to nearby rivers, and river water is used by many communities for washing food, cooking and bathing hence the contamination.

Ghana sadly is not immune to the disturbing global phenomenon of bees being negatively impacted by the use of pesticides.

Samson Pest Control has been leading the local industry in removing and relocating bees as part of its services portfolio. Corporate social responsibility on the ground and in boardrooms will be of rising importance going forward and adhering to it vigilantly is the right way to do business.

Illiteracy and under-education result in citizens with weak or no scientific knowledge. The lack of basic scientific understanding underpins a dangerously casual approach to health and safety issues.

Pest control operators in developing countries are all too familiar with tales of employees shunning PPE if given the slightest chance. This includes people willing to spray insecticides without masks.
Those with the benefit of education easily understand the importance of straightforward safety procedures which the uneducated simply don’t grasp because they haven’t been exposed to basic chemistry, biology and physics. For professionals operating in these countries, training staff is not enough. Supervision is essential.

Looking forward

What’s required to address these various challenges? Greater education should be provided to people in developing countries regarding the use of pesticides as well as their health and environmental impacts.

The pesticide surveillance activities of government departments across developing countries need to be better resourced, as does their capacity generally. Health officials require much better training. Governments need to be pressurised to support the necessary policy changes to boost safety.

Pesticide advertising and the labels on pesticide containers should carry clearer health warnings which indicate in culturally-appropriate ways that pesticides are dangerous and protective equipment must be worn during their preparation and application.

What are the lessons for UK pest controllers?

On the global stage, Britain’s brand is strong. The British pest control industry is respected for its expertise and professionalism. It is incumbent on all levels of the industry to carefully consider the wider ethical, social and environmental issues surrounding pesticide use in developing countries and be the leaders in rolling out best practice around the world.

YOUR STORY COULD BE HERE

PPC magazine is a membership magazine. If you’re a member and have a story to share or an opinion you think needs discussing in the sector - this is your platform. Get in touch today.
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Source: PPC95

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