Indeed, according to a recent World Bank study, only about four per cent of the farmers in Bangladesh actually know the do's and don'ts of handling and storing pesticides. Normally, the government's agricultural extension services should be the right source of such crucial information, but their input in this regard seems to be missing, or has gone unrecognized, for the farmers revealed that they gathered the requisite information from the sellers. Yet, 54 per cent of the traders themselves reported frequent health symptoms commonly associated with pesticide poisoning, and 92 per cent admitted that they used no protective measures while handling the toxins. The effects of such a high degree of ignorance and callousness in pesticide-handling behaviour, are bound to impact on the health of the general population, as the environment along with the farm produce, eventually get contaminated.
More than 47 per cent of the farmers are said to be guilty of using more of these toxins than needed to protect their crops, a conclusion drawn from the World Bank survey of 820 winter rice (boro) growers and farmers of potato, bean, eggplant, cabbage, sugarcane and mango. The long-term health implications of this practice, to the immediate users themselves as well as the end-consumers of their produce, are bound to be serious given the highly toxic properties of such agrochemicals. In fact some quarters suggest there might be identifiable links between the growing incidence of leukemia in Bangladesh and the excessive and indiscriminate use of agrochemicals, a fear that deserves thorough scrutiny.
Mishandling of pesticides is common to many developing countries, says the World Bank, but in Bangladesh's case, the hope is, local groups have come on board in the search for solutions. The most important finding is that Integrated Pest Management (IPM) -- the use of natural parasites and predators to control pests -- as an alternative to poisonous chemicals, has been yielding very positive results. It seems to be more productive than conventional rice farming and has no hazards in terms of illnesses due to poisoning of people and the environment. It is indeed reassuring to find that an institution like the World Bank has been highlighting these findings and have also been calling on policymakers to 'design effective, targeted outreach programmes that address pesticide risk, safe handling and protection.' The need is extremely urgent, and it is hoped, will be pursued with due seriousness.
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