By Edu Abade
Poor regulatory policies and management of pesticides in the nation’s agricultural sector have been identified as a huge threat to environmental and human health, as well as constituting devastating consequences for the human rights of citizens.
Foremost environmental activist and Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Dr. Nnimmo Bassey, stated this in his welcome address titled: Pesticides and Our Right to Life, at a training organised for legal practitioners and rights groups in Abuja on Tuesday, November 7, 2023.
In a statement made available to journalists by Media and Communication Lead of HOMEF, ‘Kome Odhomor, he said: “This is a critical moment for us to examine a crucial issue that not only affects our environment and our health, but also our fundamental human rights to life and health; a healthy environment; food and food sovereignty and our right to participation and information.
“Pesticides are designed to kill or control pests that can damage crops, spread diseases or harm the environment. While they have undoubtedly played a role in improving agricultural productivity, we must not overlook the hazards that come with their use. Because of poor regulation and management, pesticides have devastating consequences for human and environmental health and by extension, human rights.”
Bassey, who lamented that the use and misapplication of pesticides has dire consequences for the people’s right to life and health, adding that many pesticides are highly hazardous and cause acute and chronic health problems when people are exposed to them, explained that pesticides have been linked to a wide range of health issues, including cancers, neurological disorders, reproductive problems and diverse ways of poisoning of farm workers.
“An important example that we cannot forget in a hurry is the pesticide poisoning in 2020 which took the lives of nearly 270 people in Benue State where their water source was contaminated with Endosulphan.
“These impacts disproportionately affect vulnerable communities, including agricultural workers, who often lack the necessary protection and awareness of the risks associated with exposure to pesticides. Our right to a clean and healthy environment, a fundamental human right, is also under threat from the indiscriminate use of pesticides. Pesticides contaminate soil, water, and air, affecting ecosystems and wildlife,” he stated.
According to him, the loss of biodiversity and the contamination of natural resources undermine our capacity to sustain life on the planet, affecting the rights of present and future generations, adding that it directly negates basic rights such as the right to a satisfactory environment as enshrined in article 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Explaining that the impact of pesticides extends to citizens’ right to food and food sovereignty, he maintained that while pesticides are used to protect crops, their residues could end up in the food people consume, posing health risks.
“The presence of pesticide residues in our food can lead to food safety issues, undermining our right to access safe and nutritious food, particularly for those already struggling with food insecurity. Excessive pesticides residue in our food products currently affects our exports as the products are rightly rejected in international markets. Besides, pesticides also kill non-target species and this has damaging impacts on the webs of life.
“Our right to participation and information is also at stake when it comes to pesticides. Many individuals and communities affected by highly hazardous pesticides lack access to crucial information about the chemicals being used near their homes or the potential health risks they face. This lack of information hampers their ability to make informed decisions about their environment and well-being,” he said.
Speaking further, he said: “It is time to enact and enforce stricter regulations on the use of pesticides, with a focus on protecting human health and the environment. It is also time to encourage and support the development and adoption of alternative pest management methods, such as integrated pest management, biological pest control and use of bio-pesticides.
“Agricultural workers must be empowered with the knowledge and tools to protect themselves from pesticide exposure. We need to urgently empower and revive our extension service system such that farmers in local communities are equipped with the right knowledge. Members of the public must be informed of the highly hazardous pesticides, including the types, quantities and locations.
“Pesticides can no longer be seen as a quick solution to agricultural challenges. Neither should Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) crops. It is our duty to protect and preserve nature’s resources; to preserve our food culture and heritage. To do this, we must retrace our steps and recall all decisions and permits that threaten our individual, collective wellbeing and the ecosystem.”