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Bangladesh: Overusing Pesticides in Farming

January 9, 2007 -- More than 47% of farmers in Bangladesh use more pesticides than needed to protect their crops, according to a recent survey of 820 boro (winter rice), potato, bean, eggplant, cabbage, sugarcane and mango growers.

  • Only 4% of Bangladeshi farmers are formally trained in pesticide use or handling. 
  • More than 87% freely admit to using little or no protective measures while applying pesticides.
  • Farmers identified pesticide traders as a main source of information.
  • 54% of the traders report frequent health symptoms commonly associated with acute pesticide poisoning.
  • 92% freely admit that they don't take any protective measures while handling pesticides.

"But this problem is hardly confined to Bangladesh, where in fact we have been working with local groups to come up with solutions," says World Bank economist Susmita Dasgupta, who has been leading the research the use of pesticides.

"Overuse and other pesticide-related problems are common in the developing world, though the extent may vary across countries."

The indiscriminate use of agricultural pesticides has created very serious health and environmental problems in many developing countries. Worldwide, one to five million farm workers are estimated to suffer pesticide poisoning every year (WHO, UNEP) and at least 20,000 die annually from exposure, many of them in developing countries.

A team of World Bank researchers have assembled and analyzed detailed survey data from Bangladesh and Vietnam on the risk perceptions of pesticide users, their pesticide-handling behavior, and the effects of pesticides on their health.

Misperceptions of health hazards, income, farm ownership, the toxicity of chemicals used, crop composition, and geographical location account for pesticide overuse in Bangladesh.

There is an urgent need to actively promote safer pesticide use and hygienic practices among people who handle these substances in Bangladesh, according to Dasgupta.

Research findings also highlight the need for policymakers to design effective, targeted outreach programs that address pesticide risk, safe handling, and protection.

Alternative Production Methods

World Bank research compares outcomes for farming with Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and conventional techniques, using input-use accounting, conventional production functions and frontier production estimation.

IPM comprises a range of approaches, from carefully targeted use of chemical pesticides to biological techniques that use natural parasites and predators to control pests.

Results from Bangladesh suggest that the productivity of IPM rice farming is not significantly different from the productivity of conventional farming. Since IPM reduces pesticide costs with no accompanying loss in production, it seems to be more profitable than conventional rice farming.

Interview results also suggest substantial health and ecological benefits. However, collective adoption of these methods is a must. Neighbors’ continued reliance on chemicals to kill pests will also kill helpful parasites and predators, as well as exposing IPM farmers and local ecosystems to chemical spillovers from adjoining fields.

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