24 August 2023, Kenya: As demand for food grows globally, farming practices must intensify. Farmers will need to use more low-risk tools to tackle plant pests and diseases. Pesticides are an important tool for pest management. However, they should be seen as part of a kit of many tools, not the only tool. This is because pesticides also pose risks to consumer, farmer and environmental health. We must recognize and manage these risks to protect people and the environment. Careful pesticide use safeguards our food safety and security today and in the future. As a result of using fewer pesticides, we are protecting soil and water. We are also conserving biodiversity including beneficial insects like pollinators.
Farmers are skilled in food production but they’re also small business owners. They have to make tough decisions. This includes how to maximise yields and profits while protecting the natural environment. Farmers recognize their role in contributing to local and national food and nutrition security. That’s why the Ukulima True campaign is so important. It’s based on the understanding that farmers are proud of their skills, land and ability to help feed the world. (Smallholders grow over one third of all produce globally). Many farmers take pride in producing high-quality products using environmentally-friendly approaches.
Furthermore, high-quality produce goes hand in hand with authenticity. This means using natural inputs like fertilizers and seeds and proven, sustainable farming methods. It means not taking shortcuts and plenty of hard work in all weathers and adversity! As Ukulima True states, the campaign will elevate best practices in farming. It will help smallholders to use authentic, healthy practices as ‘true farmers’.
What problems does Ukulima True seek to address?
On 7 July, PlantwisePlus in partnership with the Centre for Behaviour Change and Communication (CBCC) and the Department of Agriculture, Nakuru County, launched the Ukulima True Social and Behaviour Change initiative. This collaboration focuses on pesticide risk reduction in Nakuru County, Kenya. It was launched to reduce pesticide risks in this county – one of Kenya’s biggest for fruit and vegetable production.
Addressing unsafe pesticide use
One of the main challenges that Ukulima True seeks to address is the unsafe use of pesticides. Often the wrong concentrations of chemicals are used. And pesticides are sometimes sprayed in the wrong weather conditions. Misuse also includes spraying chemicals for all pests preventatively, rather than scouting for their presence first. The campaign wants to address the use of unapproved or the wrong types of products. Sharing knowledge about safe pesticide use is essential.
An essential element of the campaign is the health of farmers. The initiative addresses safety issues. It helps farmers use the right kind of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). A 2020 paper estimates an alarming figure. Around 385 million unintentional, acute pesticide poisoning cases occur annually worldwide. This includes about 11,000 fatalities. Keeping our farmers safe is critical.
Reducing pesticides use for consumer safety
For consumers, one of the benefits of the project is safer produce. Pesticide misuse risks introducing unsafe produce into markets. For instance, farmers might harvest and sell produce before pesticide residues have had time to dissipate. Pre-harvest intervals (PHIs) are the intervals between the application of pesticides and the harvesting of produce. Harvesting produce too quickly can cause harmful residues to remain on fruits and vegetables. As a result, when eaten, they are then dangerous for consumers. Teaching farmers about PHIs is vital for consumer health.
Using natural alternatives to chemical pesticides
The campaign also helps farmers understand available alternatives to chemical pesticides. At present, biological – or natural – alternatives are not used as widely as synthetic pesticides. This can be due to the limited availability of biological alternatives. But it can also result from limited knowledge about how the alternatives work. Bioprotectants – biopesticides and biocontrol – are effective natural alternatives to chemical pesticides. However, they must be used properly. Sometimes they can take longer to work. But they have many advantages. This includes benefits for consumer and farmer health. But it also includes market advantages such as helping growers align with environmental and health regulations.
Sharing knowledge about safer pesticide use
And finally, a critical component of the campaign is knowledge sharing. Farmers can’t always access reliable information about optimal pest management. This is partly because the number of extension officers per farmer is shrinking. Moreover, participation in field schools is limited. This means farmers don’t get practical, hands-on experience in alternative or safe pesticide use. Knowledge-sharing platforms or training courses can be difficult to find. But information about safe and sustainable pest management is vital.
Ukulima True aims to use a range of interpersonal and mass communication approaches. This will support behaviour and social change. The approaches include farmer meetings and community groups. They also include training for agro-dealers and extension staff. Other forms of communication involve traditional posters, and radio and video messages. It is this mix of approaches that makes the campaign different and unique. It’s a comprehensive communications package that aims to address complex change. Farmers apply specific agricultural approaches for rational reasons. So, we must discover how to shape change in way that makes sense to them.
An additional approach is the use of talking books. This is a technology that replays radio dramas, spots and programmes. It triggers an interactive and informative discussion in community meetings. And it helps farmers have conversations about safer pesticide use according to usage guidelines.
How will Ukulima True bring about changes in pesticide use?
Ukulima True targets individual farmers. But it also focuses on extension workers, agro-dealers, communities and policymakers. The campaign aims to help farmers and other stakeholders in several ways. A main objective is to help them use pesticides safely to minimise health risks. The includes risks to themselves, others, animals and the environment. The initiative will do this through the use of PPEs. Helping farmers to maintain their equipment and spray correctly for the appropriate weather conditions is essential.
The campaign will also encourage farmers to access safer and more affordable alternatives to synthetic pesticides. And finally, it will help farmers provide markets with safe produce. These fruits and vegetables will have low-to-no pesticide residual levels. Moreover, it will support farmers in accessing reliable information about correct and safe ways to control pests. This means working with agro-dealers, extension officers, integrated pest management (IPM) champions and the media.
What pesticide risk reduction results can we expect?
This novel initiative will increase awareness about correctly using pesticides among farmers, value chain actors and the public. It aims to motivate farmers to use alternatives to pesticides when possible. And if pesticides are used, it will help farmers apply them correctly. It will also help to build farmers’ confidence in using PPE. One of its aims is to increase demand for trained service spray providers. And it will lobby for improved linkages between farmers and markets for farm produce. Furthermore, it will convey that real farmers don’t take shortcuts; they nurture. Ukulima True farmers engage in sustainable agriculture.
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