Friday 14 December 2012

Part 2: Pesticides; Chapter 1: Pesticides 101

99% of the world’s cotton is conventionally grown. This fact has serious implications for you and for me.

You see, conventional cotton farming allows the use of synthetic agrochemicals, some of which are very harmful. This post is about pesticides, a type of agrochemical.

Pesticides are substances used for destroying insects or other organisms harmful to cotton. There are three major pesticide classes: Insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. You will note that all these words end with the letters “cides”. Whenever a word ends with these five letters, that particular word is connected with killing. Sure enough, insecticides kill insects, herbicides kill weeds, and fungicides kill spores.

Is there a problem with the killing? Well, there isn’t any if the chemicals kill only pests. Unfortunately, they don’t.

Check out the protective gear: Pesticides are harmful

They can kill humans: A single drop of aldicarb, the second most-used insecticide in global cotton production, is enough to kill an adult.

And they can kill in more ways than one. For example, the improper disposal of unused or expired pesticides and the use of empty pesticide containers for other purposes (e.g. drinking) have caused the deaths of humans, including children.

In short, pesticides are dangerous. Yet they are being used excessively. Cotton occupies only about 2.5% of the world’s farmland but is responsible for the release of 16% of the world’s insecticides—far more than any other single crop. In 2010 alone, more than 3 billion US dollars worth of pesticides were used on conventional cotton. What’s shocking about these chemical applications is that nearly half of them (in value terms) are toxic enough to be classified as hazardous by the World Health Organisation. These facts have earned cotton the epithet “the world’s dirtiest crop”.

Sadly, there’s a big human cost to pesticide use. Every year, up to 77 million cotton workers suffer from pesticide poisoning; some eventually perish.

In our next post, we will tell you a couple of stories that took place in a country called Benin. They’re tragic. And they will make you think long and hard about pesticides. 

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